A heated debate is ongoing on social media over remarks made by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet this week, which his detractors claimed suggest that he may be considering a postponement of general elections.
Chastanet’s supporters were quick to deny that such a suggestion was made by the prime minister urging people to listen to the prime minister’s entire remarks instead of singling out one part of what he said.
So what exactly did the prime minister say that elicited such a reaction from certain sections of the population?
Here are Chastanet’s comments made during a Zoom session with information personnel of the Government Information Service when asked to expound on the extension of the state of emergency to 16 October, 2021:
“First of all the State of Emergency is necessary because it’s the only legal instrument that gives us the ability to have a curfew. All of the other protocols from a legal perspective are handled through the COVID Act.
We’ve made that point from very early going back to September of last year. We know that there are two particular protocols that have a significant impact in curtailing the spread of COVID. One is curfews and the other one is the sale of alcohol, because this is a social disease and so if you cut back on the hours that people can be out, and secondly if you eliminate the consumption of alcohol, and you have two different levels that you can go to, but certainly eliminating it at commercial places the level of activity comes right down.
We also have to always be cognizant of the … of our police force. The fact that we had to bring in wardens tells you that COVID is stretching our police force and putting us in a very precarious position and so I cannot allow the security of the nation to be compromised.
And we may have to consider bringing back the wardens, considering we’re seeing an increase in cases right now.
But the State of Emergency over the year, or whatever that we had it in place, we’ve only used it for COVID and this is the point that we keep making. It does give us extraordinary powers and that’s what a State of Emergency does. We have not relied on the State of Emergency for anything else other than the curfew. Some of the concerns I heard being brought up in both the lower and the upper houses, are just playing to the gallery because there is no evidence that this government in any way has abused the authority that it has under a state of emergency.
The rationale for extending it until October is very, very simple. The five years of parliament comes to an end on July 12 so after July 12, if in fact the elections take place, after that fact we don’t have the ability to come back to parliament, but there was a representative that did indicate that there is something written in the constitution that if there is a case of emergency we can come back to parliament.
Our argument was, why would you keep coming back on a monthly basis to approve something as basic as this? If in fact we don’t need the State of Emergency all we have to do is to put an order in the Gazette. The Governor General is able to do that on the advice of the Prime Minister so there is no big concern here. People are reading way too much into it.
Oh, because I put it to October it means that we’re going to have elections in October? That could be, I don’t know. I mean at this point I’ve indicated repetitively that the date of the election is going to be predicated on the access to vaccines. If I think that we can get vaccines and get to herd immunity then I think, for the sake of the population of this country, it’s worth it to wait. If in fact we’re not going to get the vaccines then that’s something that I would have to then give consideration to, because it means we would have elections without herd immunity and we’ll go from there.
But the fear that some people are trying to create with the state of emergency it’s not there and we’ve only used it for the curfews, we’ve not used it for anything else.
All of the other policies or laws that we’ve put in place have been through the COVID Act.”
When asked whether his fear is an escalation of COVID-19 cases if elections are called without herd immunity being achieved, Prime Minister Chastanet replied in the affirmative.
“That is absolutely my fear and there is certainly substantial proof globally about that. You saw what happened after elections in Jamaica, elections in Trinidad, you have just recently India. I mean the spike that’s taking place is being attributed to the elections.
“We’ve seen where we’ve had political meetings, large numbers of people gathering together and we’ve seen what’s happened afterwards, so we know that once that bell is rung that people are going to want to express their democratic rights and I understand that and we have to make sure that we’re protecting the people as much as possible.
“Once we’ve achieved that or if we cannot achieve that then the next thing is to determine what the protocols would be during the election period and I know that the CMO and the Commissioner of Police, as well as the electoral commission, have already been working on what those protocols are going to be, based on what the current situation is.
“So if we have herd immunity then it can be a little bit more liberal, if it’s not herd immunity then it’s going to be a very different election than we had envisaged or had experienced in the past.”