Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he has not considered “altered targets for elections”, which he had said ahead of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held before the end of the year.
General elections are constitutionally due by March 2021, but Gonsalves had said that Vincentians would vote ahead of the three-month grace period that the Constitution allows.
When St. Vincent and the Grenadines confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 11, the main opposition New Democratic Party was already ramping up its election machinery with weekly “village meetings” across the country.
But with 17 cases of the respiratory illness — including five persons who caught COVID-19 locally — confirmed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it is not now clear how an election campaign or even actual voting would be conducted, considering physical distancing guidelines.
Gonsalves was asked on Wednesday about how the pandemic might affect the timing of the election, the campaign and actual voting.
The prime minister said:
“It has often been said that one week is a long time in politics. And I haven’t given any real thought to the altered targets for elections.”
He, said, he had, however, discussed with the Leader of the Opposition and had drafted a letter to the Governor General regarding the appointment of the Election and Boundaries Commission.
“Because, we have, under the Constitution, if there’s a new census, we have to have the commission meet for a determination,” he said, noting that the last report from the boundaries commission is in excess of eight years.
“As you know, in 2010, we had passed a resolution in the Parliament to increase the seats from 15 to 17. And that exercise was stalled in the court.
“… so the 2015 election was concluded on the basis of the 15 seats,” he said, adding that the Attorney General has advised that the resolution has been vacated “because in constitutional terms, because you had a subsequent election on the old boundaries and that original matter has not been resolved, you need to have a Boundaries Commission.”
The prime minister said that he did not believe “that given the circumstances, that any of the major political parties is interested in increasing the number of seats.
He noted that the Constitution says the Governor General would name, in her own deliberate judgment, someone as chairperson of the Boundaries Commission.
“And the Leader of the Opposition would advise Her Excellency, on one member, and as prime minister, I would advise Her Excellency on another member.
“So I want to get that show on the road. The point is this – in all of this matter with COVID, we have always to respect the Constitution and do things — other people are not thinking about them, but I have to think about them because I’m the captain in charge of the ship, metaphorically. So I have to address all of these things,” Gonsalves said.
“Electorally, that is the only matter that I’m addressing institutionally. As to when elections are going to be held, your guess is as good as mine,” the prime minister further stated.