IT is now clearer than ever that the next General Elections in Saint Lucia will be held later than expected, but ‘within the Constitution, as Prime Minister Allen Chastanet will invoke the 90-day legal extension of the election date beyond the end of the government’s five-year term next month.
On May 4, the Government enacted a five-month extension of the National COVID Emergency act, the longest since it was introduced in October 2020 and extended in February 2021 to May.
The February extension was for 90 days (until May 16) and this latest one will be for five months — until October 16, 2021.
The government insists the extension has ‘nothing at all to do with General Elections’ and everything to do with COVID Protection; but the Opposition sees it as ‘All about politics’, the government using the extension of the Lockdown period to play for time to improve its electoral standings.
The five-month extension allows the government to make use of the 90-day extension allowed for by law after the end of the government’s five-year term – measured not from the election date, but from the date of the first meeting of Parliament following the June 6, 2016 elections.
The first meeting of parliament took place July 14, 2016, which will require the current parliament to be dissolved on or by July 14, 2021 – two days before the new Lockdown extension comes into effect.
The 90-day extension following the dissolution of parliament will lead to mid-October, the very latest an election can be held.
The government insists the extension of the curfew period for another five months is only to protect the population from a fourth COVID wave with no connection to the Prime Minister’s hesitance to fix and/or name an election date.
But it’s hard to divorce the two, a general election to be held within the next five months, no matter what happens.
The government has shown reluctance from day One to hold the election during COVID times, which would not help in its campaign for re-election at an already difficult time for most.
The ruling United Workers Party (UWP) denied claims a few months ago it was considering using the COVID Emergency to postpone elections, but it would have been difficult to win such an argument, as elections had been successfully held under COVID in at least seven CARICOPM member-states.
The prime minister’s reluctance to fix a date for elections to be held within five months has been cited as a possible indication of uncertainty his party can win up to this point and needing time to do and say more to convince more voters or doubtful supporters.
The quiet appointment of a new police commissioner on a two-year contract just ahead of the elections and relocation of the previous commissioner to the PM’s Office, alongside more stringent policing of the COVID prevention and restriction protocols under the much-criticized COVID Constabulary since Commissioner Milton Desir became the Top Cop is also unnerving for some opposition supporters.
The Commissioner’s encouragement of Police Officers and the constabulary to energetically defend and implement the COVID laws, pictured by officers pursuing alleged violators in a church during a service or across fields and worsened by online sharing of social media videos of officers performing their duties in ways that ignite references to ‘George Floyd treatment’ is also being cited by those claiming the intention is to so police the regulations and restrictions as to unduly affect opposition candidates’ campaigns.
Indeed, the majority of opposition claims of police unfairly implementing COVID restrictions, back by brief social media videos, have related to opposition public activities — from the Red Motorcade last year that was stopped and Christopher Hunte was arrested for, to the recent arrest and charging of the Chair of the Micoud North opposition candidate, allegedly for organizing a well-attended ‘welcome’ of the ‘return’ to the constituency by the determined candidate, after losing his leg in a motorcycle accident.
The opposition’s ability to engage in public campaigning has clearly been effectively curtailed by the Lockdown, Curfew and Social Distancing protocols since February, while the government makes efficient use of state and friendly media to outline its ‘achievements’ — leading to more claims the protocols are being policed in favor of the ruling party.
The emergency is also being seen as aimed at creating a situation for ‘a police state’ after the parliament is dissolved in July, in which the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of Police will effectively run the country during the 90-days leading to the end of the extension in October.
The opposition is also claiming – and the government side is vehemently denying – that the ruling party’s hope is that the police would police the COVID prevention protocols in ways that would continue to hamper the opposition’s ability to engage in community-based campaigning activities that may even remotely violate Social Distancing.
Indeed, opposition parliamentarians pointed several times last Tuesday to instances where and when government ministers were shown on social media openly attending political activities during curfew hours, without masks and in presence of COVID constables and police officers powerless to act.
The election is all of six months away but continues creeping faster and getting closer, but without a date anywhere in near sight, but both sides claim to have seen a clear light at opposite ends of the table.
One government supporter summed-up his party’s winning chances this way: ‘Despite COVID, we were able to keep the economy alive and pay all our bills to keep the country afloat.’
An opposition equal retorted: ‘The government promised to put pain in my panier (bread in my basket), but instead of food, it put roads on my table.’
And both sides disagree it’s too early to call…