Citizens Exploring Free and Fair Elections In Dominica
Dr. Irving Andre*
( 22 July 2023) — On March 27, 2008, a senior counsel and close ally of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent an email to Prime Minister Skerrit warning him of the “madness” going on at the Electoral Commission and the grave threat to Skerrit’s “electoral winning legacy” if the Electoral Commission cleaned its bloated voters list and introduced Voter Identification Cards. Thereupon, the Prime Minister refused to grant the commission funds to obtain voter ID cards and replaced two members of the Commission with two of his legal cronies. In ensuing years, the Skerrit government refused to accept recommendations from local, regional and international organizations and even from a regional attorney who is the current Prime Minister of Barbados to make Dominica’s elections free and fair.
In July 2022, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Dominica’s final appellate court, cautioned that there should be no further elections in Dominica with the “taints” of the 2019 general election. Despite this warning, Mr. Skerrit called a snap election in 2022 with all the taints, legalities and irregularities that had contaminated elections in Dominica since 2005. In December 2020, the P.M. cherry picked Sir Dennis Byron, a former head of the CCJ, to recommend changes to our electoral laws.
After three years, Sir Byron has delivered, in exchange for over $600,000 silver dollars, reforms that Mr. Skerrit has been searching for all over the democratic world, without success. Sir Byron had to symbolically dive deep and far in an ocean where no electoral expert had gone before, where no light of democracy shines, to surface with a titanic of rushing reforms that will destroy Dominica’s democracy and instead create a Skerritocracy with red carpets leading to mansions, banks, shady convicted ambassadors and incomplete or empty hotels. The critical features of Sir Byron’s final report include the following provisions that will allow Mr. Skerrit to conduct elections in the same manner that he has done before, contrary to the caution of the CCJ but without any accusations of illegality or unlawfulness:
- Overseas registration of voters,
- No specific indication that paying for the air and sea passage of persons to come to Dominica to vote for the candidate or political party constitutes the offence of bribery,
- No meaningful limitation on electoral expenditure. Such expenditure can be increased at the whims and fancies of the Commission and Parliament,
- Limited access to state media by opposition parties and no access to private owned media,
- The provision for a National ID card rather than a Voter ID card,
- No specific indication of the bio metric information that the ID cards should contain,
- Allowing Dominicans residing abroad to vote in Dominica if they visited the island for 90 days over a five-year period,
- Placing faith in the Chief Electoral Officer and Chairman of the Commission to ensure the financial independence of the Commission or compliance with the proposed reforms.
- Allowing sellers of Dominican passports who are allied to the government to sit as members of the Electoral Commission at the behest of the President and pollical directorate.
The Byron recommendations amount to nothing more than a recipe to continue holding elections in the very same way that concerned the CCJ in July 2022 despite the pious invocation of God by Dominica’s leadership. It normalizes corruption in the holding of elections in Dominica and effectively ensures the catastrophic implosion of Dominica’s democracy.
For these reasons, patriotic Dominicans, irrespective of their political affiliation, should reject Sir Byron’s prescription for a dictatorship and perpetual rule of the current administration.
Rather, in accordance with the best practices in the Caribbean concerning free and fair elections, the recommendations of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States and the warning issued by the CCJ, we recommend the following elements of free and fair election that are required to preserve Dominica’s democracy. There is no significance to the order in which these proposals are made.
- Fixed dates for general elections enshrined in the constitution,
- The Constitution should provide for a system of elections based on the “first past the post” system as we currently have to one which incorporates a limited form of proportional representation, along the lines set out in the February 1999 Constitution Review Commission Report of the late Justice Telford Georges,
- A Prime Minister should serve only two consecutive terms of office, and should be elected by all the electors in a general election,
- There should be a new process of re-registration of voters,
- Subject to paragraph vi, only those persons who are ordinarily resident in Dominica for a fixed period before an election should be eligible to vote in elections in Dominica,
- Dominicans in the diaspora who meet certain established criteria to vote, shall be able to do so in one or two designated virtual constituencies in Dominica, but not in the other constituencies where Dominicans who are ordinarily resident in Dominica are eligible to vote.
- There should be a specific national Voter ID card issued to all eligible voters in Dominica, with biometric data including fingerprinting,
- There should be no overseas registration of voters,
- There should be a fixed timetable for the cleansing of the voters list,
- All political parties should have equal access to both state and privately owned media in Dominica during an election period,
- There should be fixed limits on campaign financing expenditure both before and during any reporting period stipulated in the applicable legislation,
- Foreign persons, companies or governments should be expressly prohibited from contributing, either directly or indirectly, to any candidate or party during a general election,
- There should be fixed limits on the amount of money that a Dominican or local company can contribute to the election campaign of any candidate or political party. An offshore company domiciled in Dominica does not qualify as a local company for the purposes of election in Dominica,
- The definition of “bribery” in the applicable election legislation should specifically include the paying for the air or sea travel for persons for the express or implied purpose of having that person or persons vote for a candidate or political party during an election
- The appointment of a special prosecutor rather than the Director of Public Prosecution to prosecute persons who violate Dominica’s electoral laws. In the case of election petitions, the DPP’s discretion to nolle pros any prosecution should be eliminated,
- Any breach of the electoral laws is punishable not only by a fine or imprisonment but also by disqualifying any candidate found guilty of violating Dominica’s electoral laws,
- The financing of the Electoral Commission by a duly constituted independent body rather than by the Minister of Finance or by Parliament. The Constitution should specifically provide for this, along with the fixing of a minimum sum of money to be provided to the Commission for the execution of its duties.
- Persons in a clear conflict of interest, arising for example, from the sale of passports, or providing professional services to the government for consideration other than their work as a member of the Commission, should be automatically disqualified from serving as a member of the Commission.
- The Electoral Commission should be expanded to nine (9) members with civil organizations such as the religious sector, the business sector, trade union sector and the local Bar nominating a member on the Commission, with such person or persons being appointed by the President to sit on the Commission.
- The leaders of the political parties shall participate in at least three national debates
- during the three months preceding the general election. The other candidates shall participate in at least one debate during the three months preceding the general election.
Consultations that do not involve many or most of these basic tenets of free and fair elections will constitute nothing more than a colossal waste of time. What, in heaven’s name, make you think that Mr. Skerrit will agree to any meaningful reform, such as cleaning the voters list, issuing voter ID cards with fingerprinting and facial recognition, setting a limit of two consecutive terms in office, or criminalizing the act of paying for voters to come to Dominica to vote for you, when he has turned his back on these very reforms for over fifteen years? It is grimly ironic that the man whose electoral reforms are being hugged with great love and affection because of their tremendous potential to preserve the electoral legacy of the Prime minister, or to guarantee a Labour Party victory every electoral cycle, is an eminent Caribbean jurist whose ancestors were once slaves. However, rather than focus on the cloven hoof of electoral manipulation, embodied in Mr. Byron’s report, let those who thirst for righteousness and free and fair elections heed the words of Galatians 5: 1: “Stand firm… and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”
*Dr. Irving W. Andre, Judge of the Superior Court of Brampton, Canada, is a national of Dominica.
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