Reviving that electoral reform issue
A few days ago our attention was drawn to the news that the government and opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines had agreed to make a significant change to the electoral process in that country by cleaning up the voters list. We hope that the Dominican Parliament deliberately duplicates that important initiative.
According to the website "Caribbean News Now!" in the 2010 general election there were 101,067 registered voters out of a population that in 2012 was estimated at 109,000. The total number of valid votes cast in 2010 was 62,805 (turnout: 62.33%).
The removal of 23,000 from the list of voters in St Vincent and the Grenadines will be done through the passage of the Representation of the People Amendment Bill, which has received unanimous support from Members of Parliament from both sides of the House, the website reported. We need that Act here, now!
Two weeks before that news from St. Vincent, our own DBS radio reported that Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit would issue a statement on the vexing issue of electoral reform. Skerrit said he was about to write to the Electoral Commission through His Excellency the President to "articulate Government's position with respect to electoral reform.
In the news clip, Mr Skerrit said the Electoral Commission was in the process of issuing National Identification Cards and "what we have to do is address the issue of legislation". Through that statement to DBS, Mr. Skerrit probably acknowledges that the Electoral Commission has had no legal basis for the issuance of national identification cards, a point the opposition has stressed in the past.
Then Mr. Skerrit said this: "I will issue a very specific statement to the public on this, where the Government stands, and indeed the Labour Party stands on electoral reform, the voters list, national ID cards, addressing the issue of persons living overseas and coming in to vote."
We look forward to that statement from PM Skerrit on electoral reform and we also hope that his party has modified its stated positions on some of the most important aspects of electoral reform in Dominica especially on campaign financing and persons coming from the Diaspora to vote using tickets provided by political parties.
You will recall that these issues featured prominently during the 2014 general election campaign. As we said in an editorial then, the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) appeared rather reluctant to take the fight to the Government on the issue of electoral reform before the election especially on the issue of voter ID-Cards and a cleansing of the voters list before the next general election. The key words here were "before the next general elections". But the elections were held and one could argue that the 2014 election was free but obviously unfair especially given the spending power of the ruling party.
We learnt more than two years before the 2014 general election that the Government of Dominica was planning to implement a multi-faceted identification card, part of a larger project of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and funded by the European Union. That card obviously had no impact on the 2014 general election because the registration process was incomplete so essentially we were still at square one.
Recall too that after the December 2009 general elections, opposition parties in particular raised the issue of electoral reform and stressed the absolute need for a better system of conducting general elections. Some politicians even suggested that general elections should be boycotted if there was no response to the clamour for equal access to state-owned media, a clean voters' list and voter identification cards. The UWP should have known that being competitive in the elections would have been virtually impossible without effective electoral reform. They didn't and the result was a lop-sided 15-6.
But while we focus on ID cards and clean lists we keep forgetting an essential part of electoral reform and that is campaign financing. There is no doubt that money and politics are inseparable twins. Money determines who runs, who wins and ultimately how the winner governs. Almost everyone who witnessed political campaigns here will attest to the fact that it takes large amounts of money to run these events. Over the past few years, for instance, the two major political parties spent tens of millions of dollars on billboards, radio, television and newspaper advertising; the bussing of supporters to mass rallies (that now resemble massive fetes); paying air tickets for persons from the Diaspora to travel here to vote, and on campaigning from house to house and village to village. In fact, the 2014 campaign was the most expensive election ever held in Dominica. Unconfirmed reports indicated the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) alone spent more than EC$40 million on that campaign. No one knows who paid for the DLP campaign and the UWP campaign as well.
So, as we stated earlier, we need to enact campaign finance laws and enforce them. Otherwise the political culture of corruption will continue to destroy citizens' faith and confidence in their elected officials. It is our view that the level of funds in parties' coffers will determine the difference between parties and not the quality of candidates or the soundness of their developmental plans.
Prime Minister Skerrit said in his statement two weeks ago that he believes electoral reform is necessary. We hope Mr. Skerrit is serious this time and that is not part of a sophisticated political game.
We also hope that His Excellency President Charles Savarin and the Electoral Commission allow all political parties, not just the ruling DLP, to present their views on electoral reform.