Electoral reform is like flogging a dead horse
The electoral reform debate in Dominica has barely started; yet we are just three weeks away from general elections. For a long while it appeared as if the organisers of the campaign for electoral reform had turned off the heat; one was left to wonder whether there was a strategy, in the first place, to keep the issue on the front burner of public discussion on crucial developmental issues. If the United Workers Party's (UWP) many boycotts of parliament were a major part of that campaign strategy, the party must consider whether that part of their strategy was a waste of time.
But it is our view that this campaign cannot be allowed to fail because electoral reform is absolutely necessary if Dominica is to hold free and fair elections by 2020. Forget it, it won't happen in 2014.
We continue to argue that the issue of campaign financing is as important as the issuance of voter identification cards or the cleansing of the voters list. Yet it appears that the ruling Labour Party and the UWP have decided to basically ignore the issue of campaign financing. We are of the view that no election can be considered to be free and fair if one party has the where-withal to spend tens of millions on its campaign while others can only muster a few thousands. The large numbers of billboards, posters and campaign paraphernalia that the DLP can afford to display and share at this, as well as the last election, aptly illustrates the point.
As we stated in an earlier editorial, we are not sure that the Skerrit Administration would be too enthused about introducing the process of electoral reform. The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) has made that abundantly clear in response to the call from opposition parties for a new voters list, independent monitors and voter identification cards. Recall that DLP spokesman, Anthony Astaphan, said to the BBC a few years ago that the request was akin to "mischief making" and "foolishness" since there are already measures in place to achieve these objectives.
Electoral reform is an urgent challenge to our developing democracy. You will recall that just after the May 2005 General Elections the opposition UWP went to the High Court to seek redress over what it called "election irregularities." The matter was thrown out of court because of technicalities, so the nation has not had the benefit of the court's opinion on the specific allegations.
DLP supporters have, nonetheless, described the UWP complaint as sour grapes but we believe that there was some merit in the complaint. Because there is something fundamentally wrong when political parties purchase tickets for persons in the Diaspora to entice them to travel to Dominica to cast their votes. Both the DLP and the UWP did that in 2005 and the party with more cash available to purchase tickets won. Unless the Electoral Commission deals with the issue of the Diaspora and voting at general elections, we fear that sometime in the future political parties may go as far as chartering aircrafts from the many points in the globe where large numbers of Dominicans now live and work. Then, we predict, the political atmosphere here will be seriously destabilized.
We believe too that if Dominica is to ensure that it continues to have free and fair elections that are also free from fear, there needs to be urgent reform to other aspects of the country's electoral system. We need to learn from the experience of our sister islands, such as St. Kitts and Nevis. In August 2006, the government of St. Kitts took the bold step of reforming its system which included the introduction of a National Registration System leading to the issuance of a "Smart Card" to every citizen. Several other Caribbean countries have or are in the process of ensuring that their elections are freer and fairer. Dominica must not be left behind.
However, we repeat that while we think about transforming our electoral system, we must not forget the issue of campaign financing. This matter is so crucial to the smooth operation of our democracy, it is surprising that so few persons take it seriously. There is no doubt that money from undisclosed sources has corrupted politics and the election process in Dominica and unless campaign financing measures are legislated, free and fair elections will continue to be a mirage.
In fact Barack Obama, the current president of the United States of America has concluded that money is one of the "larger' sins of politics. Obama wrote in his popular book, The Audacity of Hope, that "there was a time, before campaign financing laws and snooping reporters, when money shaped politics through outright bribery... when big honoraria from those who sought influence were commonplace and the shape of legislation went to the highest bidder." Sadly, that time that Obama referred to still exists in Dominica and the majority of Caribbean countries.
Admittedly, it is expecting too much from the Skerrit Administration to anticipate that the party will enact and implement campaign financing laws at this time or at any time in the future. But we are almost sure that the issue will be raised again and again, general election after general election. In the meantime, we hope that parliament will come to its senses soon before drug monsters sink their teeth into our electoral processes.