Parliament to amend election laws and to make it legal to transport voters to Dominica to vote
It has been in the works for some time, and soon, it will become official.
The Roosevelt Skerrit government is about to make legal the mass importation of voters to shore up constituencies it could otherwise lose in a general election.
With the comfortable majority in parliament, the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) will rush through all three readings of a bill to amend the House of Assembly elections act that will, according to Athie Martin, facilitate the "stealing of elections".
In one of the most contentious and vexing general election issues, the new measure will remove any doubt about the legality of transporting people to Dominica to vote in any general election, according to the draft.
"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.
However, by introducing these changes the governing party is admitting that it had been committing an offence all along, according to Martin.
"It gets to the point where they say,' now let's institutionalize our misbehaviour'. Taking it to parliament they are now admitting they had been breaking the law. If you were not breaking the law there would have been no need to change it. What it is, is the stealing of elections," the former minister of agriculture argues.
By crafting the amendment this way, the DLP is preparing to argue in any potential legal challenge that not only does the law give it the right to spend virtually any amount of money it deems necessary to fly in voters – particularly since another new section (57A) states that "any money paid or agreed to be paid for or on account of any lawful expenses incurred in good faith at or on calling an election" would not constitute bribery – but the people it brings in were going to vote for the DLP anyway.
It will also be virtually impossible to prove intent without the cooperation of the party bringing in the voters.
In what is seen as further proof that the DLP is looking to legalise election corruption, government will also amend the Registration of Electors Act to establish registration offices abroad, mainly at the island's foreign offices.
"In order to facilitate the confirmation . . . of persons residing overseas, the office of any mission or embassy of the state of any other place approved by the [election] commission, may be designated as a registration office . . .,' the amended act states.
When The Sun first reported on the proposed changes last December, Wayne James, one of the two UWP-nominated members of the electoral commission, had expressed outrage.
"These changes to the legislation, especially the transporting of people to and within Dominica, are intended to legitimize corrupting our election," James said then.
However, little was heard on the matter at the time from the opposition, which is only now conveying last minute indignation.
It is further proof, says one of its strong backers, that the leadership is stuck in a reactive mode.
This notwithstanding, Martin believes the country is not far from exploding under the pressure of the various DLP "misdeeds".
"It does get to a point, as you see in Venezuela, [when] people take to the streets. What is happening in Venezuela is a sign of things to come," Martin predicts.
"Where we do not operate in respect for the country, a small group of people will have the benefits and a larger and larger group of people will feel the pinch. There will be a time when there will be push back. We can ignore history if we want but if you push people and push people there will be a time when they will burst," he warns.