Police are on high alert as Dominicans dissatisfied with the pace of electoral reform prepare to protest on Wednesday, May 31 2023
Describing the planned protest as a "classic dress rehearsal" of February 7 2017, Security Minister Rayburn Blackmore said on State-owned DBS Radio on Tuesday that the police would not tolerate violence.
"This is certainly causing some level of trepidation among law-abiding citizens," Blackmore said. "Let me give you, the general public, the assurance that there shall be no repeat of February 7, 2017, on the streets of Roseau again. Simply, no-repeat".
On 7 February 2017, Police used teargas to disperse roaming youth in Roseau.
A few hours after the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) ended a passport-protest meeting in Roseau on 7 February, police used teargas to disperse roaming young persons who were sporadically setting fire to garbage cans in the streets and breaking and entering and setting fire to businesses.
Earlier many hundreds protested against the management of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme at a meeting near Government Headquarters on Kennedy Avenue in Roseau.
At the meeting speaker after speaker demanded the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit over the mismanagement of the CBI and the sale of diplomatic passports to persons who later got into problems with the law. They said the programme had tarnished Dominica's name around the world.
A day later, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, in an address to the nation on national radio, suggested that the opposition had attempted to overthrow his government by using a truck, laden with sound equipment, to ram into the Financial Centre, the main building housing government's offices and the office of the Prime Minister.
In his prime–time statement on Tuesday, Blackmore added: "The police will be provided with all the resources needed… to ensure that any display of violence or incitement to violence will be dealt with rapidly, safely and decisively".
Blackmore asked Dominicans to embrace peace.
Protesting Dominican say they want electoral reform
Meanwhile, Dominicans are preparing to attend a rally at 3.00 pm near the arch close to the E.C. Loblack Bridge in Roseau.
"A free and fair election is the touchstone of any functioning democracy," declared Martin Jno Baptiste. "This why I will be joining the rally in order to let my voice be heard in the calls for electoral reform."
"The Skerrit government has stifled the economy for too long, and electoral reform to me, is the only solution to this problem we are now faced with to get them out," says Marlie Vidal.
In their pursuit to "defend Dominica's electoral democracy and promote good governance," the United Workers Party (UWP) and the Electoral Reform Coalition will hold a mass rally on May 31, 2023, at the Arch, Riverbank, in Roseau.
Following the December 6, 2022, general election in Dominica, which three opposition parties boycotted, pressure has been mounting for the long-awaited implementation of the electoral reform.
PM Skerrit says he is frustrated by delay of Sir Denis Byron's report
In a recent press conference, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit expressed frustration on the delay of the electoral reform report from eminent Caribbean Jurist Sir Dennis Byron, who was selected as the sole commissioner to advance efforts toward electoral reform in Dominica.
"The report was promised to us on March 23, 2023, we are now in May, and this is concerning to me because we absolutely in the country need to set this issue of electoral modernization/reform aside and focus on more important matters of the state," Skerrit said.
He vowed that any recommendations put forward in the report would be implemented.
However, opposition forces have voiced their exasperation with what they label as delay tactics by the Skerrit-led administration.
Lennox Linton, the president of the UWP, holds the view that Dominicans have lost their right to elect a government of their choice "because the ruling party of the last 23 years has decided it will take advantage of weaknesses in the election legislation, it will create its own loopholes in the legislation, and it will find creative ways of doing all the things that election laws say should not be done in order to ensure that they win the election or they get the results that they are looking for after the election."
In his call for Dominicans to attend the rally, Lennox Linton stated, "It is time for Dominica to say in a very definitive way, no argument, what is happening is not good for us, and we are standing together against it."
Linton contends, "We are ready to take back control of our country, we are ready to reset this economy, we are ready to rescue our country from the stranglehold of people who have for 23 years been looking out for themselves and not paying attention to us."
The former party leader added that there had been a decline in the standard of living for the past 20 years, which, according to him, is evident "in the struggle that you have been involved in to survive… it's just getting harder and harder." Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU), Thomas Letang, has reminded citizens, including public officers, that they hold the constitutional right to participate in protest actions.
According to him, no citizen of Dominica should be swayed by direct or indirect intimidation tactics by the police as their roles at these gatherings are not to intimidate or harass participants but rather to safeguard them and others.
According to Letang, the notion of retired and off-duty police officers being called to attend the May 31 rally is "immature and childish behaviour."