A senior opposition lawmaker in St. Vincent and the Grenadines says that the elections unrest in Dominica is “a new low for Caribbean politics”.
“I mean, you have heard of unrest in countries after an election, but I, to the best of my recollection, can’t recall having heard of a request for military intervention or police intervention before an election,” St. Clair Leacock said on his weekly programme on NICE Radio on Wednesday.
Leacock is a two-term MP for Central Kingstown and a vice president of the main opposition New Democratic Party.
He also attained the rank of major in the St. Vincent Cadet Force and has received military training in several countries.
The Regional Security System has deployed troops to help keep the peace in Dominica.
“And one of the things that jump out at me really should not have required anybody to make that appeal. That is the need for continuous registration. I can’t see in the year 2020 that you running electoral process and you don’t understand that all through the year, Sunday to Monday, January to December, just as you have in St. Vincent, you should have people continuously coming and registrar and you couldn’t enforce that,” Leacock said.
“Something has got to be wrong with you. Something has to be wrong,” he further told listeners in response to a comment by a caller.
Some 74, 895 Dominicans are registered to vote in general elections today, Friday, in which the opposition United Workers Party (ULP), ;ed ny Lennon Linton, is trying to stop the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), led by Prime Minster Roosevelt Skeritt in its bid for an unprecedented fifth consecutive term in office.
The DLP holds 15 of the 21 seats, with the UWP controlling the others.
There has been some unrest in the country in the lead up to the polls, but journalist Peter Richards, a veteran of Caribbean election coverage, says that the unrest is not as severe as it was made out to be on social media.
Images circulated on social media have shown scenes of fires and blocked roads and persons arriving by air crossing a river in an attempt to make their way from the airport to other parts of the country.
Richards told Dominica News Online that the protest have mainly taken the form of the blocking of roads and burning debris, and much of it is restricted to Marigot and Salisbury constituencies, which are opposition strongholds.
“Once you pass Marigot and you pass Salisbury, you will not realise that Dominica has any form of violence, as they’ve been showing you on social media… Look at the pictures of the areas they keep showing, of where the violence is taking place. It’s only in Marigot and Salisbury… No other part of Dominica are they showing you acts of violence or intimidation, or what have you,” Richards said.
Dominica News Online reports that the protesters, said to be mainly UWP supporters, were demanding electoral reforms ahead of the polls and want to ensure the sanctity of the voters’ list.
Richards, who previously lived in Dominica for more than a decade, explained that under the Dominica voting system, a person can cast a ballot once his or her name is on the voters’ list and can do so without picture identification.
The journalist said that the issues being raised by the opposition is the fact that Dominicans who live abroad often return home to vote, and then go back to their other country of residence.
The opposition wants this to stop.
Another issue of contention relates to the registering of deaths of voters.
“If your family do not bring the documents to show that you have died, your name cannot be removed from the list. That’s the law,” Richards told Dominica News Online.
“If you live out of Dominica for more than five years, there also is a provision in law that you could be removed from the list, but it requires filling out a special form… If you fail to fill out that form, there is no way they can take you off the list,” Richards said.
The High Court has dismissed an opposition challenge to have the election postponed to Feb. 5, 2020.
The court ruled that the Dominican Constitution allow only for the prime minister to set the election date and that the opposition, through its legal challenge, was attempting to do so.
The Dominican electoral commission has assured voters that despite the pockets of unrest, everything is in place for smooth balloting in the polls.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Commonwealth group monitoring the polls is encouraging “peaceful elections” in Dominica.
The group said in a press statement on Thursday that since arriving in Dominica, there have been protests, incidents of civil unrest and threats of violence.
The chairperson of the observer mission, Zainab Bangura, a former minister of foreign affairs of Sierra Leone and former under-secretary-general at the United Nations, said:
“Over the last couple of days, since we arrived on the ground, we have been able to meet different stakeholders on both sides of the political spectrum…
“It is extremely important that this election be conducted under the environment of tranquillity, of peace, to be able to make sure the people of Dominica can continue the process of rebuilding their country in a very peaceful and democratic manner.”
The Commonwealth Group made its request for peaceful, fair and transparent elections after meeting with stakeholders in the elections, including the country’s president, Charles Savarin, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, plus the chief of police and representatives of the Electoral Commission and civil society.