Orders Two Opposition Petitions to Be Reinstated.
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 8, CMC – the leader of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Goodwin Friday, has described as a “wonderful victory” the decision by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal to reinstate two election petitions filed by his party challenging the December 9, 2015 general elections.
“We are celebrating the wonderful victory we had here … at the Court of Appeal,” Friday said Tuesday night during a call to a radio station from St. Lucia where the appeal was heard.
“We had a great victory in the Court of Appeal,” Friday said, noting that the matter is not yet resolved as the petitions have been sent back to the High Court for hearing.
“I just want to tell the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines that tonight is a night of celebration for democracy but is not time to let our guard down and think somehow the battle is won. It requires continued vigilance…” he told listeners.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said earlier on Tuesday that the decision was “no political victory” for the opposition.
The Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that a June 2016 decision by High Court judge Justice Brian Cottle to throw out the NDP’s petition was tainted by bias and ordered that the petitions be reinstated for hearing before a different judge.
The court also awarded costs to the petitioners at the lower and appellate court.
Citing electoral irregularities, the NDP candidates for Central Leeward, Ben Exeter, and North Windward, Lauron Baptiste, asked the Court to declare them winners in those districts or order fresh elections there.
Friday said that the court’s decision has “vindicated the position of Baptiste and Exeter and, of course, all the hopes and dreams of the people who support their application, support the New Democratic Party”.
He said that, more importantly, “the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who are looking forward to justice and democracy in their country, that they have been vindicated, in that the petitions are now alive again and they can proceed on their merit to adjudication”.
The Opposition Leader praised the NDP’s legal teams, headed by Queen’s Counsel, Stanley “Stalky” John, for their work.
“We are standing behind them one hundred per cent, we are so grateful to them for sticking with it and for going forward, fees or no fees, they have been there and they have been champions of democracy for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.
Friday said that the lawyers have advised him that they are going to proceed vigorously, adding that the Court of Appeal said that election petitions must be dealt with expeditiously.
“One of the things that they (Judges) said is that this matter will go forward and it must go forward expeditiously. So, our lawyers are going to move as quickly as possible to prepare for the trial of the matter.”
Friday said this means that whatever is required to prepare for the trial, they are going to make the necessary applications before the court.
“And we are going to proceed as quickly as possible so that it can be finally resolved for the people of this country.
“And we are quite confident, as we were today in the Court of Appeal, that when the matter is heard it will reveal that the elections in Central Leeward and North Windward were fraudulent and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines deserve to have free and fair elections in this country.”
He said that Vincentians deserved that when they have a government they must have confidence that the people in office are the ones that command the support and the respect of the people whom they are supposed to be serving.
“We do not have that now in this country and need to have that resolved, otherwise, the people will continue to be restive and the government will not have the legitimacy that is required to govern properly. And so, we are hoping that with this situation we have now, that it will lead as soon as possible to free and fair elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) won a fourth consecutive term when it won the elections by an eight to seven margin.