Letters & Opinion

Westminster Caribbean Commonwealth Democracy 2.0

Converting a snap election into midterm poll with the Opposition biting the bullet over the ballot

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Seizing the Time or Grabbing the Moment to win elections has always been a useful and effective weapon in Westminster politics across the Commonwealth, parties in power hardly batting or blinking an eye to call a snap election if they feel sure they can win, especially in the midst of Opposition disarray — except in countries with set election dates and required mid-term polls.

But it’s not just a Westminster feature.

Take the November 8 US midterm polls, where President Biden and the ruling Democrats were forced to tailor their midterm elections campaign to a call for saving democracy, better managing the economy, fighting crime and restoring women’s right to abortion, while ex-President Donald Trump and the Republicans focused on winning enough House seats to make life difficult for Biden over his next two years in office – and help lay the basis for Trump to be the Republicans’ candidate for 2024.

The US is Ukraine’s strongest supporter, but a phone call between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was reported in the US press last week as having included a tough exchange, with Zelensky complaining Washington wasn’t doing enough to deliver badly needed heavy equipment fast enough and Biden sternly telling him to be patient, stop grumbling and appreciate what he’s got.

At the time facing the rigors of upcoming mid-term election politics at home, Biden’s main concerns included the growing groundswell against US spending on weapons in Ukraine, which, at over US $40 Billion, is more than twice that of all other contributing nations combined, at a time when US inflation is at a 40-year high.

Biden was absolutely clear his immediate priority was winning the midterm elections – and not the Ukraine war — the polls having predicted a ‘Red Wave’ of Republican victories led by Trump-backed candidates, which would not only mean real Blues for the Democrats but would also embolden those urging him not to run for a second term.

Ditto the major Dominica opposition party’s expected response to Prime Minister Skerrit seizing the political time last weekend and calling a snap election for December 6, 2022, in the middle of his five-year term.

The United Workers Party (UWP) claims the announcement, broadcast last Sunday evening while the island was being hit by unexpected but intense rain causing damage to many communities, meant “Mr. Skerrit decided to place his personal interest ahead of the country.”

The UWP said it was “an affront to our democracy and an insult to our people” and Dominicans “cannot be asked to participate in another national election without meeting at least two basic election standards” that it defined as “A clean Voters List” and “Making National ID Cards available to all the legitimate voters.”

The UWP, which badly-lost the last general elections 18-3 to Skerrit’s ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) in 2019, also claims that since Skerrit still has another two-and-a-half years remaining on his current mandate as Prime Minister, “there are no justifiable reasons why he should be calling a snap election, other than an abuse of power.”

And then the expected bombshell… The UWP said that “in the circumstances” it’s “taken a decision not to participate in this fraudulent election” and instead called on the island’s President, Charles Savarin, “to revoke” the Prime Minister’s snap-election call, insisting that “Electoral Reform, as demanded by the Dominican population, is needed to facilitate free and fair elections…”

Of course, there’s a lot the UWP’s press release did not say, starting with the fact that its legal challenges against previous election results have been mainly turned-down by local and regional courts, certifying that each was indeed free and fair – and it lost all fairly.

But the recent sudden resignation last month of veteran UWP Leader Lennox Linton (who led the party into consecutive general elections losses) under internal pressure over his loss-leading leadership, must also have had a role in influencing the year-end, pre-Christmas election decision.

It’s also clear that the decision to announce the snap election to a normally captive Sunday night audience would have been taken before the surprise heavy rainfall that afternoon that also flooded communities in neighbouring Martinique and Saint Lucia.

However, the statement did not say what the UWP very-well knows – that its demands are too late; and the President will not reverse a decision taken by the Prime Minister that’s within his purview, as the one who ultimately decides when an election is called.
What the statement did say though, even without mentioning it, was that, as a result of being caught off-guard and flat-footed, the island’s major opposition party has obviously consciously decided that, instead of risking worsening its already-bad regional election record by scoring a sixth consecutive poll loss, it’s elected to bite the bullet over the snap-election ballot.

The DLP won three more seats in 2019 and Skerrit set a regional record as the first CARICOM PM to be re-elected five consecutive times.

In the circumstances, the UWP in 2022 – halfway through the DLP’s fifth consecutive term – has voted to allow the PM and the ruling party another uncontested sixth repeated re-election, this time with all the seats in the House of Assembly until 2027, leaving the Commonwealth of Dominica without a parliamentary opposition until a Leader of the Opposition is appointed from among the unchallenged 21 DLP winners.

And here again, the traditional laws and rules, conventions and practices generally accepted as governing the politics of snap elections in the battle for political power is being called into question by those not likely to win.

Meanwhile, the world continues to marvel at how easy a General Election can be transformed into a national midterm poll, as the Caribbean continues to demonstrate its own continuing ability to master use of the versatility of Commonwealth versions of what can well be described as ‘Westminster Commonwealth Caribbean Democracy 2.0’

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