Let the political games begin
If there was any doubt that general elections are around the corner, the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) rally to be held at St Joseph on May Day (yes, May Day) should have erased them. That rally is expected to show the characteristics of the type of events that Hartley Henry, the Barbadian political strategist, has popularised around the Caribbean: big, bold, loud carnival-like but which are intellectually empty. If this is to be a precursor to the up-coming campaign, then get ready to party, folks!
Those of us who expect Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to reveal the date for the elections will probably have some more waiting to do. In his usual style, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has advised his party supporters to get ready because he will make the announcement like a thief in the night. This brings up the issue of whether there should be a fixed date for general elections. We have always stated that it is very anti democratic for a Prime Minister alone to know the date for the holding of general elections, while the electorate engages in a futile guessing game. It is time that the provision that empowers the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament whenever he desires, with limited restrictions, is removed from our Constitution. We have argued that the imposition of a fixed election date after a five-year cycle will reduce the temptation of manipulating the electoral system to the advantage of the party in power. One thing is sure: if Prime Minister Skerrit keeps up the suspense for too long, he runs the risk of alienating even his party supporters.
The large crowd that is expected to attend the activity in St Joseph in two weeks Sunday will demonstrate that the DLP is still a force to be reckoned with. We, therefore, suggest that the opposition party needs more time and lots of money to remove the Skerrit Labour Party from office. The rally will also give credence to the rumours that the DLP is awash with cash. Though the campaign has not really started, the DLP machinery appears to be well-oiled and ready for battle. This also tells us that the coming campaign will be a very expensive affair. It is rather disturbing that the Dominican public has not awoken to the fact that money has been corrupting and will continue to corrupt our electoral process. It is now very evident that politicians are openly buying votes and candidates as well. This vulgar display of wealth in Dominican politics should alert our leaders, in the church in particular, to the fact that all is not well in the process of financing political campaigns.
On many occasions in the past we have raised the issue of integrity and transparency in campaign financing. A few years ago it was heartening to hear Julian Johnson, the Chairman of the Integrity in Public Office Commission express the view that the funding of political parties is another area Dominica needs to consider in its quest for good governance and transparency. Johnson suggested that parliament should place this matter on their legislative agenda. He recommended that any such law should require political parties to publish their accounts annually, issue a list of donors twice yearly in the Official Gazette and identify persons and institutions who donate $10,000 or more. Of course, no one took Johnson seriously.
It also seems obvious, from the campaign so far and all past campaigns, that a major aspect of the DLP campaign is to "big up" Prime Minister Skerrit as a visionary and caring leader. Many supporters continue to wear T-shirts embossed with the "Skerrit Cares" slogan and most speakers gave examples of Skerrit's caring. In 2009 for example, Minister of Health, Julius Timothy, was most eloquent in this regard. He said Prime Minister Skerrit was the best leader that Dominica could have and that history will record that he was Dominica's greatest leader of all times. But we postulate that the glorification of Skerrit may not build confidence in the team, rather it is a risky strategy as Skerrit's fall could tumble the decks of the DLP. That is why the opposition hopes that a consistent focus on corruption in government, especially at the level of the Prime Minister, will cause Skerrit to fall from the Christ-like platform that DLP supporters have built for him. So far the strategy has not worked.
Apart from corruption, the state of the economy is likely to be one of the major issues of the campaign as various pronouncements by the opposition has indicated. Nonetheless, government is relying on apparently dubious statistics to claim that Dominica is in a better economic position that the majority of islands in the Caribbean. In fact, some time ago, Prime Minister Skerrit made the most ridiculous statement of his career when he advised Dominicans who live and work overseas to come home because we are better off here. Come on, even the Prime Minister's most illiterate supporter knows that this is blatantly false. But other DLP politicians were equally careless with the facts by stressing ridiculously low unemployment rates and boasting about the vibrancy of the economy. We all know that we have had a depressed economy for decades and unemployment has been in the region of 25 percent of the labour force for many years. We hope that in the coming weeks of the pre- election campaign economists and the press can shed some light on the matter, especially for independent voters.