Street Battle Ahead
An Opposition Group Wants Government to Delete Proposed Changes to the Registration of Electors Act that is to be taken to Parliament Next Week or Face a Massive Demonstration
The proposals came as an unpleasant surprise to the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM). Now the group which says it stands in defence of the constitution swears it will not accept proposed changes to electoral laws lying down.
The CCM, formed in February 2014 and described by its president, Loftus Durand, as a grassroots people's organisation "fighting for equality and justice in whatever facet of life we choose to", is confronting the Roosevelt Skerrit government over the changes, and has threatened to take to the streets en masse if that's what it takes to stop it.
The vexing issue revolves around plans to 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.
Government's lawyer and spokesman Tony Astaphan says these changes are in line with those proposed by election observers from the Organization of American States, as well as the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and civil society groups, to cleanse the voters' list.
"All that it requires is that a confirmation process takes place with registration officers or designated registration officers in different jurisdictions - the United States, Canada - where people must confirm their names and their residence on the list and they have to establish that they have been to Dominica at least once over the last five years prior to confirmation, otherwise their names will be removed from the list," Astaphan tells The Sun.
However, the CCM believes there's a more sinister intent by Skerrit's Dominica Labour Party (DLP), hell-bent on staying on power.
"One of the reasons we don't want that to happen is that our constitution says the commission should not disenfranchise voters in Dominica. If the commission say, goes to Barbados and confirms Dominicans there, that will disenfranchise Dominicans living in Martinique, where the government does not set up shop," Durand says.
"So as is our laws on the books, all this should happen in Dominica, so all Dominicans overseas who want to participate in our election should come here to do that."
The CCM believes the electoral commission will have "little power over what happens out there" and this could result in economic citizens ending up on the voters' list, despite assurances from government.
And, Durand says, once they are registered there is no stopping them from voting.
"We are asking that the government stick with our constitution, obey the rules therein and not put forward any amendment that contravenes our constitution, especially our electoral laws. Secondly, anything that has to do with our election it must happen in Dominica, and so we will not be in agreement with the government conferring any power, to send agents or have offices set up in any part of the world to confirm anybody. We will not stand for that."
Durand, in his personal capacity, has already filed an injunction seeking to stop parliament from debating the amendments, and is awaiting a hearing. However, he says, failing this, there will be a "massive demonstration" outside parliament on the day the matter is being heard.
"What is the DLP's intent? One of their intents is to stay in power for as long as necessary. But we know that the people have the power, and they must use their power to prevent the government from going down that road.
"We will stand our ground. We are already in the promotion mode to sensitise people in Dominica to come on the 20th of September to make it clear to the government we are not in agreement to changing our laws.
"It means we are basically having every five years, something that is not the people's voice on the ground, so we cannot sit here as a country and have the elections rigged right under our very nose. We are saying we will not tolerate that," Durand insists.
Astaphan has dismissed the CCM as a propaganda arm of the UWP, whose leader, Lennox Linton, he charges, had agreed to the proposed changes, until he was convinced to hold dear to the word 'register".
"That is a dishonest misinterpretation of a word entirely out of context," Astaphan says.
He explains that the act gives the registration officers the power to ascertain whether or not people are qualified to be on the voters' list, among other responsibilities, and that only the chief registration officer and registration officers can add, transfer or remove names from the list.
In addition, Astaphan says, it is "utter falsehood" to suggest that economic citizens can register to vote without having lived in Dominica in the constituency they wish to be registered for six consecutive months immediately preceding registration.
`"What we have here is another incident of the United Workers Party fabricating, misconstruing and deceiving the people on the true meaning of the legislation in order to create an atmosphere for violence and confrontation," the lawyer charges. "These guys are distorting and misrepresenting the provisions of the law in order to create an atmosphere for violence."
(Update: Levi Peter, the Attorney General has indicate that the Bill that Government planned to introduce at next week's sitting of parliament is to be postponed to allow more discussion of the amendment).