By Shermain Bique-Charles
Despite pressure from world leaders for the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and CARICOM to speak to the issue of electoral reform in Dominica, OECS Chairman, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he refuses to get involved in the political affairs of that country.
Opposition protesters calling for election reform clashed with police in Roseau last week, forcing lawmen to use tear gas to disperse the massive crowd near the official residence of the president, Charles Savarin.
The Organization of the American States (OAS) and agreed that electoral reform is essential as Dominica prepares for general election on December 6th.
But Browne came under criticism from members of the public because, in his appeal as OECS Chairman, he only called for calm and peace, and shied away from the topic of electoral reform.
When OBSERVER media contacted Browne for a response over the weekend, he said the issue of electoral reform in Dominica was for the internal political parties there to resolve.
“I do not intervene in the internal affairs of other states,” he said.
“However, as the OECS Chairman and Dominica as our closest sister state, I have a legal and moral obligation to call for peace,” he added.
According to Browne, if Dominica is destabilised and residents are displaced, Antigua and Barbuda will more than likely be the recipient state.
“Therefore, the peace, stability and progress of Dominica is of utmost importance for us,” he added.
He said ultimately, the political differences will be resolved but it cannot be at the expense of the advancement of the state.
“We would like the demands of both sides to be satisfied, but not at the expense of the advancement of Dominica. We are part of an Economic Union with free movement and, therefore, have a significant stake in the maintenance of peace and stability in DA, which could destabilise our small and fragile union,” Browne explained.
Meanwhile, the OAS made it clear that, in the past, several missions have been to Dominica to observe elections and have made a number of recommendations, none of which have been implemented.
Deputy US Permanent Representative Alexis F Ludwig recalled a joint mission to Dominica by the OAS, CARICOM, and the Commonwealth last August and three areas of concern were identified for free, fair and transparent elections.
“1) Removal of deceased persons and ineligible voters from the current electoral list; 2) Issuance of photo identification cards to electors to facilitate more accurate identification at the polls; and 3) Removal from the current electoral list of all diaspora voters who are ineligible to vote by virtue of being out of the country for more than five years,” he explained.
Adding, “Sadly, the Government of Dominica rejected all of these recommendations.”
Ludwig noted that Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit called election “without implementing recommendations listed in a joint OAS/CARICOM/Commonwealth report issued in September 2019”.
“We recognise that Prime Minister Skerrit has the constitutional right to call elections at any time,” he stated.
“However, we believe that implementing the recommendations would have contributed significantly to the fairness and transparency of the elections that all Dominicans seek, but also reaffirm the OAS’ and international community’s confidence that Dominica wants to ensure that its elections meets the standards of the OAS Democratic Charter and the international norms for organising and holding elections.”
He lamented the fact that the Government of Dominica has not invited the OAS to send an Electoral Observation Mission to the upcoming elections scheduled for December 6th.
“As we know, the OAS Electoral Observation Missions are the gold standard in ensuring free and fair elections,” Ludwig stated.
Meanwhile, Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Amalgro, has also added his voice to the matter saying that the people of Dominica deserve an election that is free and fair.
Amalgro took to Twitter to voice his concerns following the unrest in Roseau last Monday night.
“The people of #Dominica deserve democratic, fair, inclusive and transparent elections. Democracy is the best antidote against violence,” Amalgro said in a tweet last week.
He stated an Observation Mission to Dominica would be essential to provide assurance and suggest improvements to the system.
However, St Lucia’s Ambassador to CARICOM, Anton Edmunds said on Friday that there is no obligation for Dominica or any other member state to invite the OAS to observe its electoral process.
“Tthe Caribbean has always had strong tradition of democracy, notably free and fair elections and considering previous electoral commissions in the Caribbean, we are confident that the OAS understands this. We encourage impartiality,” he said.