Let the political games begin
If there was any doubt that general elections are around the corner, the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) meeting at Lagoon Roseau last Thursday, which followed the United Workers Party (UWP) public meeting at the same venue about two weeks earlier, should have erased them.
That DLP meeting showed the characteristics of the type that Hartley Henry, the Barbadian DLP political strategist, has popularised around the Caribbean: big, bold, loud carnival-like events but which are intellectually empty. If this was a precursor to the up-coming campaign, then get ready for more noisy political meetings and rallies.
Those of us who expected Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to reveal the date for the elections last week will have some more waiting to do. In his usual style, Prime Minister Skerrit told his party supporters to get ready because election is around the corner. He's been saying that for some time now.
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 any 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 a 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 at Lagoon last week Thursday also shows that the DLP is still a force to be reckoned with. It appears that it will take a massive effort of the opposition equipped with an innovative campaign strategy to remove the Skerrit Labour Party from office. The meeting also gives credence to the rumours that the DLP is awash with cash. Though the campaign has just 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. Some predict it will be violent as well.
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 political parties 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. We must do something about that very soon.
Another issue which has continuously made the headlines during all the political campaigns in the recent past is corruption. But allegations of corruption and general elections are like Siamese twins: inseparable and usually difficult to tell apart. So it is not surprising that on the eve of the 2014 general election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and members of his government have been fending off a torrent of accusations from the opposition by accusing them of doing the same things. About fifteen years ago, the shoe was on the other foot when the DLP used a similar election campaign strategy against the UWP.
As Dominicans prepare for general elections the performance of the DLP government has come into sharp focus. Specifically, critics are fixated on the economy, jobs and poverty. While Prime Minister Skerrit boasts that the Dominica government has done better than many other countries in the Caribbean given the precarious state of the global economy, opposition politicians, in adaptation of Mark Twain statement, are accusing Mr. Skerrit of engaging in "lies, damned lies and (abuse of) statistics."
Among the statistics that the opposition say that the government has manipulated is that the unemployment level is currently at about 11 percent compared to over 20 percent in 2002, and that the number of poor persons and households has been reduced to at least 26 percent and 19 percent respectively.
But available public documents contradict that view. These documents state that 39 percent of Dominica are still below the poverty line; about 50 percent of residents of the Carib Territory live in extreme poverty; more than 25 percent of the labour force is unemployed; nearly 80 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 34 cannot find a permanent job and therefore migrate and the income of the majority of banana farmers have disappeared because the industry has virtually collapsed. So, apparently the true economic and social conditions of Dominicans is somewhere between those two positions.
Civil society must therefore make efforts at providing the Dominican electorate with sound, intelligent and sober discussions on our economic options. The impact that the severe financial and economic crisis will have on Dominica is too serious to be left to politicians. To be absolutely candid, on the eve of an election we do not expect either the government or the opposition to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, about the state of the economy.