Government blinks over Election Bill
Concerned over continuing violence, Prime Minister Skerrit postpones debate on the controversial Bill to amend Elections Act
Saying that his government was not intimidated by threats of violence, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit on Thursday said that fears of the impact of continuing protest has caused him to postpone planned debate in parliament of a controversial Bill to amend the Elections Act.
"It was my intention to embrace legitimate concerns of the Opposition and perhaps defer action on this Bill in Parliament until such time as a bipartisan committee of the Parliament would have had an opportunity to deliberate on the draft and make known its concerns and recommendations," prime minister Skerrit said in an address to the nation on Thursday afternoon.
The government introduced a Bill to amend the Elections Act when parliament met on Tuesday. But before it was debated the Bill was met with stiff disapproval from the opposition United Workers Party (UWP). Residents of Salisbury, a UWP stronghold, blocked the E.O. LeBlanc highway near the village and angry UWP supporters gathered near parliament when the House of Assembly began meeting on Tuesday.
In his address PM Skerrit said these forms of protest were "a dangerous precedence" where the views of some persons in the opposition "is accompanied, almost always, by street protests, lawlessness and violence."
Skerrit blamed the UWP for what he called "uncontrolled, mob-like behaviour" that was displayed in Roseau and Salisbury and, according to Mr. Skerrit, if the situation was allowed to go unchecked that "could lead to dire consequences in the not too distant future."
Mr. Skerrit expressed the view that in the past when politicians disagreed on policy "crime and violence" was never the first course of action by an established political party. But not today, he said.
"The portrayal of Dominica as a melting pot for confusion and antisocial behavior is hurting the image of the country and threatens the social and economic wellbeing of our dear land," Skerrit said.
He said his government hoped that after the second reading of the Bill parliamentarians would suggest changes to the Bill.
"It is customary practice and indeed, has been the norm over the past 300 years, for concerns of Parliamentarians to be embraced and evaluated. Convincing arguments are taken into consideration and there is scope during the second reading for deferral of action or for amendments in what is known as Committee Stage," said Skerrit.
With the passage of the Bill into law, critics say the Roosevelt Skerrit government would have made legal the mass importation of voters to shore up constituencies it could otherwise lose in a general election.
And that would have been easy because of the ruling Dominica Labour Party's comfortable majority in parliament.
In one of the most contentious and vexing general election issues, the new measure would remove any doubt about the legality of transporting people to Dominica to vote in any general election, according to the Bill.
"For the avoidance of doubt the transportation of electors or the facilitation of the transportation or electors to or within Dominica for the purposes of an election does not constitute an offence unless the transportation is provided or facilitated with the intention to corruptly induce an elector to vote for a particular candidate for whom or party for which the elector would not otherwise vote," the amendment says.
The importation of votes has been perfected by the Skerrit DLP, which is known to have chartered flights to bring in Dominicans living abroad to vote in constituencies that hang in the balance, or in which the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) appears to have a slight advantage.
The DLP has consistently maintained that its hands are clean in this, and the opposition has never been able to prove that laws are being broken.