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P.M. for Election Campaign Financing

Image of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet

Pierre Wants End To ‘Winner Takes All’ Practice.

PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet says he favours the introduction of campaign financing legislation in St. Lucia saying it represents an even more important issue than having fixed dates for general elections here.

Image of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet

But Opposition Leader Phillip J. Pierre believes that the issue of campaign financing could be adequately dealt with if the present system of “winner takes all” is amended with some “level of discretion”.

Both Chastanet and Pierre were participating in a live television debate on “Fundamental Rights and Freedom” on Monday night as part of the discourse on the Constitutional reform in the country.

Prime Minister Chastanet, who led his United Workers Party (UWP) to victory in the general elections last June, told viewers that he does not believe that a fixed date for election “is such an important thing.

“I think campaign financing is much more important of an issue than the fixed date and if you are going to have a fixed date I would like to think that the fixed date would come with a substantial amount of campaign financing reform.”

The Organisation of American States (OAS), which has sent observer missions to several Caribbean countries for elections, has repeatedly called on Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to seriously consider the issue of campaign financing.

“The legal arrangements governing elections and election financing focus more on the activities of individual candidates than those of parties, which, in many states, lack definition as legal entities. They are codified in Representation of the People’s Acts or Ordinances (RPA/RPO), which state how much candidates and their election agents are authorised to spend during an election, what they must disclose at the end of the process, and the penalties for infringements,” according to the publication “From Grassroots to the Airwaves: Paying for Political Parties and Campaigns in the Caribbean,” an OAS Inter-American Forum on Political Parties publication.

It noted that “everywhere in the Caribbean, there is majority opposition to the public funding of political parties, largely because of the mistrust with which voters view politicians and parties and their unwillingness to burden the Treasury with the cost of maintaining them, whether during election campaigns or throughout the year”.

Chastanet told television viewers that when you look at countries such as the United Kingdom, there are bill boards, television and radio advertising and ‘a lot of things that restrict what you can do.

“So I would like to think that (with) campaign financing …that we can sit down and agree on some basic regulatory procedures in moving forward

“And even though they may not require constitutional change I would feel much more comfortable proceeding…knowing that there was a consensus in how we are going to do that.

“I feel right now where we are in St. Lucia that when you look at it that (campaign financing) has been a great impediment”.

He said that unfortunately, there is the perception that the party that’s in government “tends to seem to have much more financing.

“We have seen in other countries where it has been obnoxious in the amount of money that the government has had relative to the opposition,” Chastanet said, making reference to a situation “where one party brought in something like 14 charter flights.

“We see other disparities. I don’t think it has been glaring as that in St. Lucia but it is something that ought to be brought under control”.

OPPOSITION Leader, Phillip J. Pierre
Opposition Leader, Phillip J. Pierre

For his part, Pierre, a former deputy Prime Minister and now leader of the main opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) said that he believes the present system can work, but what is important is a need for a change in attitude of the people in it.

“We live in an environment and I think that is a fundamental problem …where the winner takes all and he talks all, all, all

“In terms of election the Prime Minister knows when he can call it, he knows what he must do to call it , he knows which constituencies he want to win so he can put resources there…So when you have a system like that a fixed date would be better and if there is a system where the playing field is level, because the government will always have an advantage that is expected that’s the nature of politics”.

Pierre said that’s the price of winning. “When you win you have an advantage and when you lose you are disadvantaged..

“That’s why I spoke earlier about the role of Parliament,, I believe that many of our problems in terms of how we debate, how we deal with the issues how we campaign, even campaign financing would be brought into a more equitable degree if our winner takes all system, winner takes all but winner takes all with some level of discretion.”

The Opposition Leader said that’s among the main problems with the system.

“What it does every four and half years….even if we win elections it does not mean the majority of the people supports us”.

Pierre said that there was need to develop a system where the minority of the people who do not support the government and still do not belong to opposition party “can exist…can live…can produce and contribute to our society.

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