Extremely long delay in effecting electoral reform in Dominica
By tomorrow Tuesday evening Dominicans will know the results of the bye-election in the Soufriere constituency. It would be a major upset indeed if Hidges "Higgs" Adams of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) comes close to winning because he lost the December 2014 general election by almost 500 votes. Hidges should therefore consider it a major victory of sorts if he increases the percentage of the votes that he wins in spite of the Dominica Labour Party's massive bye-election campaign effort. But that's another issue.
Amazingly, a few days before that bye-election Lennox Linton, the UWP political leader, was on radio complaining again about fraudulent election practices in the campaign. Linton criticised the DLP for flying in people from the Diaspora to vote at Soufriere in contravention of the electoral laws; he said the DLP was running a rather expensive campaign and there was widespread vote buying and treating in the Soufriere constituency.
But Linton's list of complaints is similar to those we have been hearing about for the last three general elections. It is apparent that we have made little progress in removing the impression, or acknowledging the reality, that elections in Dominica are not free and fair or free from fear.
As we wrote earlier, Dominica cannot make significant progress if the country fails to reform its antiquated electoral laws. But unfortunately, Dominicans appear to be in no hurry to arrive at a consensus on one of the most divisive problems affecting this fledgling democracy.
Although general elections are due within the next three years, based on the pace at which we are moving towards solving these vexing issues we may need 20 more years to effect the necessary adjustments to our electoral laws. Dominicans have not even agreed on the specific changes they should make to these laws nor have they set deadlines for getting the job done.
It seems Dominican politicians have the penchant for talking around the subject of electoral reform (in fact, any subject) and then they do absolutely nothing about the issue. For instance, in a press statement issued on 23 June 2015 Prime Minster Roosevelt Skerrit said his DLP had presented suggestions and recommendations on electoral reform to the constitutionally independent Electoral Commission. One year later, the public has heard not a word from the Commission.
In that press statement Mr. Skerrit said that he agreed that there is a need for an upgrading of the electoral laws of the country. But listen to that: Mr. Skerrit believes that the current laws have always produced election results that are free and fair. So, Mr. Skerrit, if the process by which we choose our governments is not broken, why are we trying to fix it- and what is Linton persistently complaining about?
As we have written on numerous occasions, general elections in Dominica cannot be described as free or fair when one party spends tens of millions of dollars on electioneering whilst the other parties spends a pittance. Linton said last week that the DLP spent US$262 per voter in the last general elections, a figure that dwarfs the amount per voter that Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are spending in the current United States of America presidential election campaign. Unfortunately, Linton did not say how much per voter that his party spent.
In addition, in that press statement Mr. Skerrit said he suggested that the Electoral Commission should clarify the laws on bribery including the laws that expressly prohibits the transportation of electors or supporters to vote. The DLP argues that it is bribery to pay for the transportation of supporters to vote only if one can prove that the person who receives the free transportation was induced to vote for the party or the candidate who gave the free ride, or voted for a party and a candidate that he would not otherwise have voted for. That, in our view, is nonsensical; it is a vain excuse for continuing an illegal practice.
In other words, the DLP sees nothing wrong with providing a supporter in Boston, for instance, with a free ticket costing thousands of dollars, to come home to vote as long as that voter's name is on the voters list. It doesn't seem to matter to the DLP whether that voter has lived in Boston for 50 years and that person has not visited Dominica since then. That Bostonian now has a ticket to ride and he has come home to vote. No one can stop him.
For many years the opposition has accused Mr. Skerrit's administration of using its large electioneering budget to buy airline tickets for hundreds of Dominicans in the Diaspora to return home to vote. The UWP allegedly did this too, a few elections ago. But our courts say the allegation is a fishing expedition; it seems obvious that our courts are afraid of rocking the political fishing vessels.
Now the DLP is again being accused of taking voters from the Diaspora to Soufriere for the bye-election.
In our view, Dominicans need to explore ways to either stop that practice or make the transportation of voters from the diaspora equally accessible to all political parties. If we continue doing nothing about that practice then the party with the largest budget will openly and boldly fly in thousands of Dominicans and their friends and family to the island to vote. And who will stop another political party from saying: If they can do it and nobody bothers I will use drug dealers' money to do it too. Then all Dominicans lose.
This cannot be fair.
And in addition there is the in-your-face practice of treating.
The point is Dominican elections have become a farce and a waste of time and unless the country takes the issue of electoral reform seriously we'll soon become the jokers of the Caribbean-if we not already.