Electoral Reform will be Dominica's perfect storm
Comments last week from Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit following a consultation on electoral reform organised by a group of concerned citizens and the ensuing response to Mr. Skerrit's statements from Lennox Linton of the United Workers Party (UWP) has confirmed, again, that Dominica's political parties are miles apart on that important subject. It is our view that electoral reform may soon become Dominica's perfect storm. There is pandemonium ahead.
On 24th April the group Concerned Citizens Movement held a one-day consultation at the Goodwill Parish Hall. The event was a noble attempt, by ordinary citizens, to clarify the issues surrounding electoral reform before the next general election constitutionally due by 2020.
But unfortunately, a number of vital organisations did not attend the forum; notably the Dominica Labour Party and the Electoral Commission.
Asked by the Dominica Broadcasting Corporation (DBS radio) news editor, Curtis Matthew, to comment on the consultation, Prime Minister Skerrit said he neither heard about nor listened to the discussions. The Prime Minister indicated that the UWP had been demanding electoral reform and when that wish was granted the opposition protested. He added that the government took a Bill to parliament to amend the electoral laws of Dominica but "the parliament was stoned, the police was stoned by the opposition."
That statement by the prime minister, that protestors threw stones at the police and the parliament is at odds with the recollection of persons who witnessed the protest against the electoral reform Bill.
Mr. Skerrit told Curtis Matthew that the Government has the authority to proceed with matters related to electoral reform and "we have done so."
Will the government take that Bill back to the House of Assembly, Matthew asked?
"Once parliament is willing to accept the Bill, we will proceed," Mr. Skerrit answered
But Mr. Linton who reiterated the UWP's position at the consultation (that "we will not have another election in Dominica without electoral reform") said Prime Minister Skerrit merely took a Bill to parliament to "legitimize bribery and treating" and that the UWP did not accept.
As last week's consultation restated, the main issues surrounding electoral reform include: enacting campaign financing legislation, cleaning up the voters' list, issuing voter identification cards, participation of the Dominica Diaspora in electing a government and solving the vexing problem of paying airfares for Dominicans to come back home to vote.
As we stated in an earlier editorial, no issue is as crucial to the health of our fledgling democracy; no issue, if left unresolved, has the potential to plunge Dominica into widespread anarchy; no issue, if properly decided, is a better medicine to treat the disease of political divisiveness that has been hindering our development for many decades, than electoral reform. It is even more vital after Hurricane Maria.
Two years ago, Lennox Linton the political leader of the UWP released to the public a letter that he wrote to Gerard Burton, the chairman of the Electoral Commission. We, the Dominican public, have not yet heard from the Commission.
In that letter dated 18 August 2016, Linton outlined the UWP's demands for electoral reform before the next general elections.
You will also recall that some months earlier, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit also sent the Commission a letter in which Skerrit gave the ruling Dominica Labour Party's (DLP) perspective on electoral reform.
As we said earlier, when you compare the two proposals you will undoubtedly conclude that the UWP and the DLP do not agree on the meaning of electoral reform in the Dominican context. So we predict a long and arduous journey before the two major parties remotely agree on the details of whatever reform is necessary for free and fair elections.
To minimize the confrontations we have suggested the engagement of an independent consultant from the Organisation of American States, for example, to advise Burton and his Commission on the measures and their implementation. Kent Vital, the political leader of the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP), made similar suggestions when he addressed last week's consultation.
In our view the current electoral Commission is way too politically polarized to consider the matter to the remote satisfaction of the Dominican public. The commission has a massively complicated job ahead of them and they would need all the assistance they need to get it done before the next general election constitutionally due sometime in 2020 because Dominican really cannot continue conducting elections the way it has over the past 15 years.
In his letter Linton asked for the following: a total re-registration of all eligible voters on the basis of which a new register of voters will be issued; voter identification cards - picture ID cards for all eligible voters on the new register of voters who will be obligated to use the cards as identification during elections; enforcement of the provisions in our electoral laws against bribery, treating, personation, illegal voting and election offenses in general; voting by electors living overseas – lawful facilitation of registered, eligible voters living overseas to vote in general elections in Dominica; media access for the Opposition - fair access for the Opposition to the news and current affairs programmes of all State-owned, State-operated or State-controlled media; campaign finance reform - to ensure at the very least declarations of campaign contributions and election campaign spending by any political party of no more than EC$30 per registered voter per election.
As we have stated in earlier editorials, the issue of campaign finance reform is going to be the most contentious because that matter will affect every aspect of election campaigning in Dominica and over the past three elections the financing of general election has been of growing concern.
So, as we stated earlier, we need to begin talking about enacting campaign finance laws and finding ways to enforce them. Otherwise the culture of political corruption will continue to corrode our citizens' faith and confidence in the electoral process.
All groups, organisations and institutions must begin to put electoral reform at the very top of their agenda. Staying away from discussions on that issue is not an option.