Letters & Opinion

The OAS and Elections in Bolivia and Dominica – Part 9

Which way for voters to have their say: Impeachment, Recall or None-at-all?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Caribbean people followed events leading to Dominica’s December 6 General Elections with as much keen interest as Americans following the impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill.

Dominica’s was the usual election — a ruling party seeking reelection and an opposition party seeking to replace it — except that this time around the opposition was also pressing for the election not to be held as set, demanding the impossible just days away from the poll and even arguing the prime minister and his government should instead be jailed for corruption.

If a right of recall or impeachment existed in Dominica’s laws, the opposition would surely have activated those clauses, but to no avail as the election results showed.

In the case of Bolivia, whether their laws allow or not, the indigenous majority don’t even have a choice or chance of recall or impeachment of the unelected ‘Interim President’ who assumed the entire powers of both the presidency and the government with military backing and US recognition within days of the elected president being ousted and forced into exile.

Rights of recall or impeachment are not (yet) part of Caribbean political culture, governments and people traditionally preferring to settle scores between parties at elections, often resulting in regime change where corruption charges have been sufficiently believed, proven or not, in other cases absence of proof or evidence resulting in accused administrations or politicians being reelected.

But there are those arguing it may be time for Caribbean constitutional scholars to examine the extent to which citizens should or could have rights of recall, or impeachment proceedings can be instituted against a government as stubborn as that defying popular demand in Haiti today.

Most Caribbean and CARICOM states and parties have resisted the ‘politically correct’ theory of term limits, arguing it simply prevents an electorate from choosing to continue reelecting a popular leader who’s doing good, enough for all to be returned to continue doing good.

Likewise, all have rejected efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS), over long years, to get them to implement election campaign financing legislation that will legally enforce requirements for declaration of all donations.

But few parties and governments can successfully argue that electors should not have a right of recall.

Bye-elections and No Confidence Motions offer voters and their elected representatives a route, but there are those who strongly feel the ‘Name and Shame’ effect of a recall or impeachment played out in public will send stronger signals about the ultimate power of the elector to elect and recall and the responsibility of legislators to electors and the nation at large.

The easiest way out has always been for politicians and government leaders or ministers accused of and found to have acted improperly to resign voluntarily, or be asked or forced to, which, as is being seen in Malta today, leaves the ultimate decision in the hands of the accused.

But as with everything everywhere else being recommended for trial or implementation in the Caribbean in the name of political correctness or improvement of related systems, it will be necessary to closely examine how such issues are handled elsewhere, before even contemplating whether the Caribbean should follow suit.

President Trump is facing two impeachment charges for ‘Abuse of Power’ and ‘Obstruction of Justice’ related to his ‘quid pro quo’ request from the Ukraine President for mud against a political opponent. He also faces possible tax-related charges and the list of allegations he’s officially protected from answering now but may have to out of office, is ever-growing.

Trump remains defiant and his Republican backing in the US Senate will most likely prevent him from becoming the third US President to be impeached, but the majority of Americans believe he did something wrong, even if they do not all agree he should be punished at the polls in November 2020.

In the UK, as his party entered General Elections, (December 12) Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being pursued on legal grounds regarding a matter that preceded his taking office — and that, after he was formally accused of (though not charged for) ‘misleading The Queen’.

In both cases, though, the American and British electors have no direct say, depending — as always — on their elected representatives to act in their name and on their behalf.

The process of bringing leaders to heel is of interest to Caribbean people, like others everywhere who would have reason to want to think about changing elected horses in mid-stream, between elections.

CARICOM and most Caribbean states have no set election dates and thus can have as many elections within five-year terms as the prime minister or president would call — like the two general elections in 21 days called by Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister John Compton in 1987 after he twice refused to accept the electorate’s verdict of a one-seat (9-8) majority in the 17-seat parliament.

Compton overcame his difficulty by facilitating a floor-crossing by an opposition member in exchange for a top Cabinet position, to secure a more comfortable 10-7 majority.

He’d already previously played the same numbers game 23 years earlier in 1964, when he managed a post-election coup against the victorious Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and became Chief Minister by facilitating an alliance of two losing parties with the help of two winning ‘independent Labour’ MPs to create, there and then — but after the electorate had voted — a new ruling United Workers Party (UWP) that didn’t contest the election.

Changing the results of the votes by playing the numbers game has always been acceptable in politics everywhere, even though it defeats the purpose of democratic selection by direct election.

Electors are hardly ever allowed roles in government beyond Election Day.

But in many or most cases, those they elected play by their own rules after being elected, electing instead to defend, protect and promote personal interests and political survival for the next general elections, instead of doing what they were elected to do.

CARICOM leaders have more freedom to call elections than electors have ways of recalling them between elections.

Governments accused of doing wrong can be forced to call snap elections and lose – or win again.

There may be no laws to recall or impeach an elected parliamentarian or national leader, but changing the laws to make it easier to change a prime minister between elections is an even more difficult proposition, if only because Caribbean electors don’t elect or select a prime minister, who is chosen by the majority of winning candidates – as in the case of the Electoral College in the USA, which chooses the president.

But most of all, constitutional change is a tall order in former British Caribbean colonies, made almost impossible by the requirement of a 66.6% (two-thirds) majority support in a referendum when most major parties struggle to win 50% of the vote at elections.

In Saint Lucia, more than a decade’s worth of constitutional review proposals were thrown out the parliamentary window less than five years ago by MPs representing both major parties, after concluding the proposals before the House would eventually surrender them to gubernatorial castration and consign them to the garbage bin of parliamentary history as we know it.

There have been suggestions that impeachment might be a better way to go in the Caribbean when elected leaders and/or governments become unpopular long before elections are due.

Like everywhere else, traditional Caribbean politicians are very mindful about effecting changes that can return to haunt them.

Besides, Caribbean leaders enjoy wider executive powers than their peers in the UK or USA who are limited either by statute or precedence.

Examples abound of beleaguered but defiant Caribbean leaders electing to agree to fresh elections they know they will lose, instead of resigning before the end of their constitutional term limits.

It’s all about the power that comes with office, which is meant to empower leaders and governments to do much more much more quickly, not only for those who elected them to office, but for everyone and the entire country.

With most leaders either being lawyers and advised by Attorneys General and other legal and/or constitutional experts, they usually find ways around the laws to smart or sneak their ways out of resigning or otherwise throwing-in the towel when their backs are against the wall or they’re standing over the precipice.

At the end of the day elements of pride and vengeance come into interplay and leaders save face, but once a once-popular leader exits the stage as a result of a recall or impeachment or any other like means with a different name, the people will have had their say – and their way.

The real issue is always what matters the next day.

And they day after…

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