ST. VINCENT:- There will be an early election battle in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on Thursday, Dec. 9, ahead of general elections next Monday, Dec. 13. However, that battle will be fought in the courts and not using the ballot box.
The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has brought four private criminal complaints relating to election fraud against Luke Browne, the ruling Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) candidate to come up against Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace in East Kingstown.
“Based on sworn statements given to counsel, private criminal proceedings have been instituted against Luke Browne for alleged cheating in this election…” NDP public relations officer, Vynnette Frederick, told journalists on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
She said that Grantley Williams the chairman of Browne’s constituency division and Afie Jack Hall will each also have to answer to one count of election fraud.
“These prosecutions send a clear message to anyone else who wishes to cheat … in this election. We will collect the necessary evidence against you and we will file complaints. You will be prosecuted for your criminal behaviour,” Frederick said.
The charges are the latest in an ongoing saga which began a few weeks ago when Frederick, a lawyer, accused Browne of election fraud when they both appeared as guests on a Hitz FM radio programme.
Browne denied the accusation and his lawyers have since written to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) asking him to prosecute Frederick for the accusations.
If the DPP prosecutes Frederick and she is found guilty, she could be jailed and barred from contesting elections in SVG for five years.
Frederick, speaking about the complaints against Browne, told reporters on Tuesday that “the law is the law [and] offenders will be prosecuted regardless of whether they are prime ministers, candidates or voters.
“If sufficient evidence to bring that prosecution exists, then the persecution will come,” she said.
But Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said the charges constitute “political harassment” of the candidate and said he and his party will resist them.
“The NDP yet again are using private criminal complaints to undermine the criminal process and for political reason — and notice, on the eve of a general election. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves,” Gonsalves told party supporters in Sion Hill, East Kingstown, Tuesday night.
He said that the NDP chose to bring private criminal complaints against Browne rather that reporting him to the DPP or the Supervisor of Elections, for which the law provides.
“This is a flagrant misuse and violation of the principle that a lawyer must exhaust appropriate avenues before you go ahead to bring a private criminal complaint of this kind. It is an abuse of the process for which all those who are involved will pay for after these elections,” Gonsalves said.
He said the NDP has not produced any evidence to the public or the Supervisor of Elections and that the party had previously tried to bring private criminal proceedings him.
“They bringing now against Luke on the eve of the general elections, abusing this sacred process for narrow partisan political purposes — an absolute disgrace,” Gonsalves said.
He said lawyer Kay Bacchus Brown, who is representing the NDP, “should have told them that they are acting improperly and should not entertain this foolishness, this rubbish, this nonsense.
“What they are trying to do is to divert attention from the complaint that Luke made against Vynnette in front of the DPP. They have no shame these people in the NDP; absolutely no shame.
“These private complaints against Luke Browne is nothing more than political harassment of a young man by the NDP and I [am] telling you this harassment will be resisted strongly, firmly by the leader of the ULP, by the party, and by Luke Browne,” Gonsalves said.
He said the ULP condemns “this political trickery and dishonestly by the NDP, this abuse of the process must be condemned.
“And most of all, three working days and two Sabbath days before the general elections, Eustace and Vynnette and the rest of the NDP are trying to divert attention from the fact that they have nothing to offer the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. No policies, no manifesto, they want to go in the gutter; we will not go in the gutter with you,” Gonsalves said.