Dominica's Electoral Reform Process is Back to Front
Everything is inside out
Everything is back to front, Papa Bondye
And if I didn't know better
I would swear is voodoo working in Dominica
Everything is upside down
Everything is inside out
And between you and me, Pardner
I would swear is that dem politicians dem want.
(Lyrics from Vigilante's 2012 Calypso- Back to Front).
After 36 months of starts and stops, accusations and counter-accusations, snap elections and the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, the sole commissioner on electoral reform in Dominica, has finally presented his report.
So let the games begin, again.
But as we examine Sir Dennis's $575,000 list of- recommendations that we hope will usher in a new dawn of free and fair elections, of an election of a government of the people, for the people and by the people, we marvel at the perceptiveness of Vigilante's 2012 Calypso.
To paraphrase Vigilante, over these past decades, Dominica has gotten that electoral reform process back-to-front, upside down, and inside out.
With due respect to Sir Dennis, this regional retired prominent jurist could have done his three–year exercise in five minutes and for a token fee of a dollar.
Sir Byron, Dominica is having a significant problem implementing electoral reform because of the ineffectiveness of the so-called independent Electoral Commission.
In addition, Sir, the problem is not the Constitution of Dominica that created that Electoral Commission monster. It is not the structure of the Commission, as dictated by the Constitution that is making electoral reform in Dominica as difficult as climbing a greasy pole. The problem is, Sir, at the head of the Commission, at the position of chairperson.
In his recent report, Sir Dennis gets himself entangled and confused about the issue of the Electoral Commission and its mandate. He even mentions a referendum to amend the Constitution regarding the Electoral Commission and then almost immediately discards the idea. In our view, all the esteemed jurist had to do was call His Excellency President Charles Angelo Savarin and advise him to recall the Chairman's appointment and then seek to appoint someone who would be acceptable to both the ruling party and the opposition parties.
Electoral reform in Dominica would then become as easy as eating fruitcake.
Unfortunately, Dominica does things differently, especially when we have gotten the process back to front from the beginning.
Let's be frank- the Electoral Commission has been a disaster for decades. Instead of performing its functions as the Constitution intended, the Commission has become a political tool, a pawn of politicians. Some say the ruling party has "high jacked" the Commission, rendering it impotent, twisting it to its will, playing cat and mouse games with it.
Of course, based on the provisions of the Constitution, the key to the independence of the Commission is appointing the Chairman, whom the President of the Commonwealth of Dominica appoints in his "deliberate judgement". Comparatively, the President appoints the other four members on the advice of the party forming the government (two members) and the leader of the opposition (two members).
However, over the past two decades, who, we dare you to ask, has the President appointed in his so-called "deliberate judgement"? Ask yourself this question: can any human being who has walked on the face of this world realistically claim to be independent when they benefit from the government's million-dollar unique and exclusive privileges?
Herein lies the popular perception of a tainted election process.
Electoral Commission should have appointed Sir Dennis and not the PM
Furthermore, there have been many instances of the need for more independence of the Commission to regulate Dominica's elections. A current example is Sir Dennis's one-person Commission.
Observe that instead of the Electoral Commission of Dominica, Prime Minister Skerrit hired Sir Dennis, Skerrit designed his terms of reference, and Skerrit informed the public of his decision to take Byron's recommendations straight to a Parliament that Skerrit controls with a 19-2 majority of yes men and women.
How more back-to-front and upside-down and inside-out can we get?
But the story gets more interesting. Lo and behold, Sir Byron, as a true professional, sends his report first to Prime Minister Skerrit, who hired him in the first place.
In all of this, as we said earlier, the Commission appears to us, the people, to be a fast-asleep-backseat-and-drunken passenger on a bus being driven by the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) towards an elusive, never-ending electoral reform or modernisation journey-that elusive impossible dream, that we spoke about earlier.
Apart from the ineffectiveness of the Dominica Electoral Commission, the other problem that has led to the protracted electoral reform process is the DLP and its concept of electoral reform or modernisation.
Does the DLP want electoral reform?
Let us state it bluntly: the DLP believes that the electoral process is still intact. Because the party wins election after election with the same old system and then declares the election, "free and fair". So why should they fix it and then risk losing? Who, but a fool sets up a plan to ensure he will not win a contest?
Additionally, the DLP has concluded that electoral reform in the Dominican context is a United Workers Party (UWP) invention to work itself back into power. Just read Anthony Astaphan's book on the issue and the picture become clearer.
Although Prime Minister Skerrit said at one of his press conferences that he was frustrated by the lack of progress in the electoral reform process, we must assess his words, and the words of the DLP, by his action, especially in 2019 and 2022 when he called snap elections instead of waiting for the electoral reform process to begin.
In 2019, just before the general election, the government, through the Attorney General, said the Special Joint Mission's recommendations to clean the voters' list by house-to-house verification and issue voters ID cards were not affordable.
Again, in 2022, Prime Minister Skerrit surprised almost everybody by dissolving parliament on the cusp of the release of Sir Dennis Byron's report on electoral reform.
Maybe Vigilante got it right. Let us "just listen" to those sanctimonious words currently being repeated ad nauseam on electoral reform. The confusion these words create is precisely what "dem politicians dem want".
So, on electoral reform with Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron we are back-to-front again. Inside out once more. Upside down, Pardner.