Dominica, when you decide that there will be no electoral reform before the next election: Where do you go to, My Lovely?
"'Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind." (William Shakespeare's King Lear Act 4 Scene 1).
It took the Electoral Commission, the major political parties, the church, civil society, almost everyone in Dominica, more than a decade to talk, argue and then to implement electoral reform so that we can conduct fair elections in this fledgling democracy.
Then on the eve of general elections, when the two major political parties have declared their team of candidates, have desecrated the environment with red and blue election-comin'-flags, when we have watched Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit stand on a campaign stage and jokingly threaten to ring the bell- folks, we waited all that time to clean up our voters list, we waited all that time to issue voter identification cards, we waited all that time to decide on campaign financing legislation- then last week Gerald Burton, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, told the nation- you know something, it's too late. Are we, indeed, a serious nation?
Read what Mr. Burton told the nation at the-heavily-police-guarded-public discussion at the Goodwill Parish Hall to consider the way forward for electoral reform in Dominica.
"I am of the view that we cannot allow our nation to descend into chaos over the failure of those of us charged with the constitutional responsibility to resolve the issue in a civil and mature manner," Burton said. "I would not recommend that the (new proposed) system be used in any upcoming election".
So Dominica, what now, My Lovely? Where do we go from here?
It has now become abundantly clear that the Electoral Commission and the Government of Dominica are unwilling, or unable, to effect electoral reform and that the brute force of the police is being used, and will continue to be used, to keep the people from demanding what they want with their boots on the ground and their loud voices clamoring to the mountain tops. It is very clear that this is not a good way to solve problems in a democratic country. It is also very clear that this chaotic situation will gratify only members of the ruling party while the apprehension of every other Dominican will surge. It is as clear as crystal that Dominica is in for a tense pre- and-post election period and that we should pray to God that we will all remain calm.
It is particularly significant that all this is happening while we observe the 40th anniversary of May 29, 1979, the day that the people of Dominica took the police on in spite of their guns and their tear gas and their batons, to overthrow the DLP government of Patrick Roland John who was then stubbornly refusing to listen to the demands of the people. It is clear today that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
It is also clear that the "discussion" that the Government and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission held at the Goodwill Parish Hall last Wednesday was organised to push through the DLP version of the electoral reform debate and the false argument that if the electoral system is not broken so why fix it.
But the electoral system is significantly flawed with a bloated voters list, the DLP's abuse of incumbency, the DLP's domination of the media and the extremely uneven playing field caused by a situation in which the DLP is virtually drowning in millions of dollar bills while the other parties struggle to make ends meet.
And yes, we agree with the Attorney General, the Ambassador to CARICOM, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and others, that this is the same system that we have used to elect eight governments since independence four decades ago. This is the same broken and unfair electoral system that we have used in the past 40 years; yet that does not mean we must not endeavour to fix it. And we must fix it.
We also hear the arguments that it is the opposition that is holding up electoral reform and that the Bills for effecting the necessary changes are signed, sealed and waiting to be delivered to parliament if only the opposition would agree and renounce the threats of violence. This argument is disingenuous; the United Workers Party (UWP) will not agree to amendments to our electoral laws that the DLP government alone, with the collusion of the DLP section of the Electoral Commission and its Chairman, have designed and wants to take to the rubber-stamping parliament. We agree with Nancy Gibbs, the American essayist and former managing editor of Time Magazine, who wrote in April 2019 that: "We all learned back in the playground that whoever makes the rules of the game stands a better chance of winning it."
As we have stated, the UWP and opposition forces prevented the passage of the Bills by protesting and applying for an injunction in 2018 because the opposition felt it was not sufficiently consulted during the drafting process of the Bills. The DLP alone had then "made the rules of the game".
So, Dominica will certainly not have electoral reform before the next general election; an election that Lennox Linton, the political leader of the UWP, has forcefully reiterated will not happen without electoral reform. What he means, we do not know.