Electoral Reform in Dominica is like a wheel within a wheel, never ending nor beginning
It is amazing that after decades of discussion and debate and disagreement about electoral reform, in 2022 Dominicans are still just talking about the subject.
There has been no consensus on what we need to accomplish, no facts that most people agree are undisputed, no definition of the term electoral reform from the Dominican context, no timeline for its accomplishment.
This situation reminds us of the first verse of the lyrics of Noel Harrison's "Windmills of Your Mind."
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel/
Never-ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel.
So last week, when the newly reconstituted National Joint Action Movement (NJAM) that is now led by Kent Vital, the former political leader of the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) announced that it is having a virtual rally to discuss the way forward for electoral reform in Dominica, we wondered why we seem to be going around in circles, never-ending nor beginning, with the process of electoral reform. But we believe we know why Dominica is unique among Caribbean countries that have reformed their electoral laws without even a whimper.
Think about it: would any patient take any medicine that is expected to kill him? That's the essence of the trouble with electoral reform in Dominica and the reason the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) appears to be as afraid of electoral reform as Dracula is afraid of the cross.
That's the reason for the recent elaborate dance involving the electoral reform process's sole commissioner, Sir Dennis Byron and that's the reason for the decade's-long smoke and mirror exercises, consultations, and reports, without the implementation of even basic electoral reform such as the issuance of identification cards for voting and the cleansing of the voter's list.
So, as abhorrent and distasteful as that situation appears to be: that is, a single political party trying to dictate the terms and conditions of an electoral reform process, we are tempted to ask, as many Dominicans do when they are confronted with the unjustifiable: Si w té Norway sa w té ké fè? (If you were in his position what would you do).
Dominica is in this unfortunate predicament because a ruling party believes that it needs to dictate the terms and conditions of the electoral reform process instead of leaving that to the so-called independent Electoral Commission (EC) and parliament.
We are also in this situation because instead of nominating persons on the electoral commission who are expected to perform their constitutional functions with impartiality, independence, and fairness, three of the five members on the government side of the EC belong to the extremely lucrative and exclusive club of passport peddlers that the prime minister selects; the other two are supporters of the other party. Hence, the currently constituted Electoral Commission is, as they say, dead on arrival, effectively unable to perform its core functions.
And then there is parliament. So, when Prime Minister Skerrit implied that he had so much confidence in the pending recommendations on electoral reform from Sir Dennis Byron, that he alone selected and appointed, that he will take the Byron report straight to Parliament to transform the recommendations into law, the nation should have shuddered and shouted a long, loud Nooo!
Because, essentially, Mr. Skerrit was saying he intends to send the Byron report, which he commissioned, to himself, and for his approval. There's no better example of one being judge, jury and executioner.
After all, in the current Dominican context, there is not even a thin line that separates the Executive, led and dictated by Skerrit, and "de I's-always-have-it" Parliament led and dictated by Skerrit.
Attorney-at-law and historian Dr. William Riviere made that point succinctly in a book entitled: "Our Constitution: Democracy or One-man Rule" published, in part, in the Sun Newspaper a few years ago.
"More correctly, it is the Prime Minister as an individual, not the Cabinet as collective that from the standpoint of our Constitution dominates the Legislature. In fact, the power and authority of the Prime Minister go beyond this. It is all-pervasive," wrote Dr. Riviere.
"The Constitution invests the Prime Minister with power, directly and indirectly, to effectively control not only the Legislature but, as well, the Head of State, the Cabinet of Ministers and the institutions of Public Administration, including the Security Forces. And the Prime Minister is equipped with the power to greatly influence the functioning of the Judiciary".
It is, therefore, unquestionable that the current parliament is being monopolized by the party in power and specifically by the Prime Minister and we justifiably anticipate that "the I's will have it" when Skerrit takes the Byron recommendations for electoral reform to parliament.
And finally, the major reason for Dominica's never-ending or beginning electoral reform process is that the DLP, the ruling party, is simply not interested in meaningful electoral reform. For the DLP, electoral reform is like voluntarily taking medicine that is likely to kill it.
For example, the DLP will, unless it is forced to, never agree to a level playing field as far campaign financing is concerned. That's the medicine that is likely to kill its massively expensive political rallies, its many free mega-stars concerts, its lavish transportation of Dominicans living overseas to vote.
In fact, that is the essence of the DLP's continuous argument that "if it ain't broken (i.e. the election process) don't fix it."
Recall that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said a few years ago that the DLP Government that he leads "is confident that the electoral laws of Dominica and the election process as a whole has always produced elections which are free and fair and the results truly reflect the wish of the Dominican electorate".
President of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Angelo Charles Savarin, repeated that statement to the House of Assembly: "generally that system has served us in good stead over the years and all three of our major political parties have won and lost elections under the existing system."
Additionally, Anthony Astaphan, the DLP spokesman wrote on page 23 of his booklet "Commonwealth of Dominica: Electoral Reform, MYTH OR FACT?": "We have had elections since at least 1980 with the very same process and Register. Since 1980 and most definitely since 2000 there has been no credible allegations or claim of the Register having compromised an election or lead to corrupt practice."
And Joseph Isaac, the then Minister of Climate Resilience and Urban Renewal (the former UWP parliamentary representative for Roseau Central and the DLP candidate for Roseau North in the 2019 general election and now Speaker of the House of Assembly) has described electoral reform as a UWP "red herring", a mere distraction.
Do you now agree that electoral reform in Dominica is like a wheel within a wheel, never ending nor beginning?