ST. VINCENT: – Lawyer for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) senior counsel Anthony Astaphan has said that persons making false allegations against party leader Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the other candidates in the lead up to the Dec. 13 poll must be prepared to present the evidence when sued.
Astaphan, a Dominican national who has appeared on radio campaigning on behalf of the ULP, held a press conference in Kingstown on Thursday, Dec.2, during which he addressed certain allegations against the ULP administration, its leader, and candidates during the election campaign.
The ULP is seeking a third consecutive term in office amidst a formidable challenge by the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP)
Astaphan said the NDP was misleading its supporters when it said that that three of its candidates, teachers Elvis Daniel, Addison “Bash” Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson were forced to resign to contest the poll.
“The three of us who are standing here before you, we have given nearly 100 years in the teaching profession and that’s how we are treated,” Daniel said at an NDP campaign rally last week.
Astaphan cited constitutional and electoral law, which excludes certain sets of citizens, including public officers, from contesting general elections.
Therefore, any teacher must resign before Nomination Day or have their victory set aside by election petition if they are elected to Parliament.
“…part of the process of qualification or election is that on Nomination Day you must be properly qualified and that means that you must not hold an office or be a public officer, otherwise you will be disqualified,” Astaphan said.
He said any vote for a public officer who did not resign by Nomination Day “is “an invalid vote and a wasted vote and not worth the paper it is written on”.
“This is one of the reasons why we find it difficult to understand why persons in the New Democratic Party are portraying themselves as martyrs and as sons and daughters of freedom and democracy. …
“The point which I am making – that we are making on behalf of the Unity Labour Party — is that the supreme law of the land … requires that certain persons not be elected to public office and one of those is a person who is a public officer.”
He said he could not understand how the NDP candidates could complain about democracy and being victimized “when the democratic foundation of our laws requires you to resign your … prior to Nomination Day”.
“…there is a comprehensive misrepresentation of the law and the obligation of persons who are required to be nominated for elections,” Astaphan said.
Astaphan also quoted the Representation of the People’s Act and the penalties laid out for persons who are unable to provide evidence to support allegations like those levelled against Luke Browne by Vynnette Frederick last week.
Frederick, the public relations officer of the NDP and candidate for West St George, accused Browne, the ULP’s East Kingstown candidate of election fraud while the two were guests on Hitz Fm.
Browne’s lawyers have since written to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking him to consider prosecuting Frederick.
If Frederick is prosecuted and should she lose the case having been elected to Parliament, she call see her election voided.
“This is a serious, serious provision of law,” Astaphan said of the relevant legislation, adding that Browne “has asked his attorneys … to ensure that his reputation is protected”.
He said Browne wanted to ensure “that he does not become a victim — perhaps I should say another victim — of this campaign of mass misinformation and a campaign of vilification that is taking place where issues are put to the side and a retching up of vile allegations against members of the Unity Labour party”.
Astaphan further said that the ULP anticipated a resurrection of the rape allegations two women levelled against Gonsalves two years ago.
A female member of the Gonsalves’ security detail accused him of raping her and a lawyer living in Canada levelled similar accusations against the Prime Minister.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) discontinued both cases because of a lack of evidence.
Lawyers for the cop lost appeals of the DPP’s ruling both at the High Court and Court of Appeal.
“The result of the Court of Appeal decision — which has never been challenged — is that there was no charge or complaint or summon for Dr Ralph Gonsalves to answer at all. Despite that, Mr Arnhim Eustace and the New Democratic Party are insisting that Dr Ralph Gonsalves refuse to answer a summons,” Astaphan said.
The leadership of the NDP and its supporters have repeatedly called on Gonsalves to “step asides” and clear his name of the accusation.
Lawyer for the cop also failed in their attempt to have the case heard by the President of the Family Court, who, in her judgement, said the move was an “unjust harassment” of the defendant.
“…the fundamental position as a matter of fact and historic and judicial record is that there was no summons for Dr Ralph Gonsalves issued. Yet, the political leader of the NDP insist on having himself and his political party portray Dr Gonsalves as someone who has refused to answer something that has not existed in law,” Astaphan said.
Astaphan said that the NDP was engaged in a campaign of personal vilification that says “it is time and enough of Ralph Gonsalves”.
“Issues are being swept under the carpet and the vilifications of members of the Unity Labour Party are being raised for target practice by the NDP….
“If you are going to make an allegation about somebody, you must be able when sued or when challenged to present the evidence…” Astaphan said
“We mention these things to say that we are concerned but vigilant and that any attempt to tarnish the reputation of this prime minister, the good name and reputation of this prime minister in course of the election, with things we consider to be manufactured lies will be resisted and every and any legal option and process available to Dr Gonsalves will be undertaken.
“But this is not purely a question of law. It is a question of judgement. You are going to have to make a decision whether you are going to elect a political leader and a political party whose entire political campaign had been premised now on no, it’s time, and lying, and the vilification of Dr Ralph Gonsalves on matters which are not fact, but fiction…” Astaphan said.
Astaphan also restated the ULP’s call for peace even as a party supporters is accused of shooting two NDP in Chauncey Wednesday night.