The nature of democracy in Dominica was discussed in Part-I of this series. The grim theory of Thomas Hobbs was referenced in concluding that Dominicans may well have become wicked to themselves in giving support to an anti-democratic style of governance and unwittingly accepting the rule of a simpering Leviathan as Prime Minister. The observation of many ordinary Dominicans, who are struggling to exist in the DLP modified democracy, referred to as ‘Skerritocracy’ was noted. In fact, just this week, the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU), which represents public servants in Dominica reported that during a meeting with its members, certain individuals of a local Mongoose Gang-like group were seen recording attendees and intimating public workers who are voicing concerns over some negative aspects of the Bill to provide for the establishment of the Dominica hospital authority, administration and management of hospital and other health facilities proposed by the Skerrit-led DLP Administration.
Prime Minister Skerrit has been in office for approximately 18 years-an extremely long time for a leader in a so-called democracy, granted that there is no constitutional or legislative provision limiting the tenure of service of a Prime Minister or a member of parliament in Dominica. This has emboldened Prime Minister Skerrit, who on his weekly Sunday afternoonprogram mocked our democracy and self-assuredly declared that everyone in Dominica knows that he has been, he is and will continue to be the only and best person to lead Dominica to prosperity, progress and development. Like an arrogant political peacock, the smirking Leviathan bragged that there is no one in Dominica who could successfully implement a major infrastructural project such as the construction of an international airport-but Roosevelt Skerrit. He challenged the duo of friendly journalists, who seemed to be overjoyed to be in his presence in a controlled environment where no criticism of the government is tolerated, to agree with his personal conviction and to praise him as the best Prime Minister ever in Dominica’s history. According to the Prime Minister, “no one is going to beat Roosevelt Skerrit any time soon,” therefore, everyone including the opposition must ‘cooperate’ with him (essentially submit to him) in order to build the country and “we shall all be better off for it.”
The mere fact that Prime Minister Skerrit hosted a weekly program with two senior, experienced journalists as his guests is in itself a reversal of democratic norms. With his customary smirk, the Prime Minister boasted of having been victorious over the opposition five times over the last 20 years. He further suggested that he may remain in office for five more terms i.e., 25 years to beat the opposition and according to him to continue his work of developing the country. In other words, PM Skerrit has signaled his intentions to remain as Prime Minister or as President of Dominica until such time that ‘God” or Dominicans decide it is time for him to vacant office, bearing in mind that based on the voting partners in Dominica, it is Dominicans-both at home and in the diaspora who want him to continue to manage the affairs of state.
Clearly, PM Skerrit wants to continue in office for many more years. However, in any vibrant democracy, no regime or individual can avoid the challenges of leadership succession indefinitely. This, Mr. Skerrit may have recognized, as he has publicly capped his reign as Prime Minister of Dominica to his present 20 years with a possibility of another 25 years, if this is the divine desire of God and the people of Dominica.
As noted by Dankwart A. Rustow in his classic scholarly article, Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model, ‘the problem of political succession is implicit in the human condition: it is posed by man’s mortality and frailty.’ However, Dominica cannot afford to hang its future on fate and the mortality of and frailty of man. Given the very nature of current DLP politics, the issue of political succession both as leader of the DLP and Prime Minister of the country is ever-present. In his article, ‘Leadership succession in politics: The democracy/autocracy divide revisited,’ Ludger Helms observed, “the single most important difference between democratic and autocratic regimes, not least in terms of the politics of succession, concerns the question as to whether those in power are vulnerable to electoral defeat. Scholars seeking to establish the ultimate function of genuinely democratic elections have rightly argued that ‘if an election does not make it possible to evict incumbent policymakers and bring another set of individuals to power, we would be reluctant to characterize the election as democratic’
To leaders as PM Skerrit, the holding of elections, particularly those that may carry a certain risk of losing power or posing a challenge to “a winning legacy” are undermined to produce sham results even though the elections appear to be fully competitive. Elections, whether observed by international observers and declared free and fair or an expression of the will of the people, do not turn an autocracy or Skerritocracy into a real democracy. On the contrary, this advances the rapid deterioration of a fledgling democracy into an autocracy. Indeed, as misleading as it may be, the decision to hold elections is ultimately driven by opposite motives, not to promote democracy but to make alternations in the power held less likely and according to a Senior Counsel “to protect the winning legacy.”
Rebecca D. Cox contended in a 2009 article, “authoritarian rulers agree to positive levels of electoral risk primarily to gain information that reduces the risk of their violent removal from office via a coup d’etat or revolution.” Recent research further suggests that, other things being equal, older and more experienced dictators are more likely to hold competitive elections, mainly in order to reduce uncertainty. In a 2017 article entitled, ‘Aging gracefully? Why old autocrats hold competitive elections,’ the author Seiki Tanaka stated, “As a dictator ages, uncertainty over the future increases within the regime, because government insiders’ expected payoffs for supporting the incumbent decline as s/he ages.” In the same way, studies have shown that younger dictators are less likely to enter in power-sharing arrangements although they may be more willing to pretend to engage in constitutionally mandatory consultations than older or long serving autocratic leaders.
Whatever may be the pros and cons of having a leader in office for such a long time in a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) in the Caribbean, this is not something that true democracies encourage and embrace. Therefore, the statements of PM Skerrit do not augur well for our fragile democracy. Increasingly, his rhetoric mirrors that of a leader with dictatorial tendencies and who seeks to maintain his hold on political power and to maintain his position of leadership for a long time either through continued manipulation and rigging of electoral processes or via legislative actions of a controlled parliament that does not hesitate to facilitate additional years in office.
Considering the above, the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has repeatedly called for constitutional reform to ensure that we have term limits for a Prime Minister in Dominica similar to ‘The Tenure of Office of Prime Minister Bill, 2015,’ which was recently introduced in parliament by the government of St. Kitts. The legislation stipulates a two five-year term limit for office of the Prime Minister.
Unlike other systems of government such as fascism, socialism and communism, democracy respects and values the individual irrespective of race, ethnicity or status. Actions of public officials are generally taken in the best interest and welfare of the majority. Ultimately, however, it is the people in a democracy who hold residual power and who decide whether that power is exercised via the ballot or through other unconventional means like the 1979 “Coolwash Brigade” enforced against the first Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Ronald John. In the same way, the people of Dominica will decide whether PM Skerrit stays on for five or twenty-five more years.
Unfortunately, in contemporary times, democracy in Dominica is more commonly defined in negative terms, as freedom from arbitrary actions of our police as openly or implicitly instructed to persecute members of the opposition, attempts of the executive to control or manipulate the judicial justice system, unfair election practices, and the empowerment of the personality cult or the rule of a nomenklatura, much more than reference to how we can benefit from the democratization of our society.
The most basic principle of a democracy is the participation of the people in government. However, in recent times even the democratic participation of Dominicans in local village elections is under serious threat from the intimidation, undue influence and unnecessary interference of a controlling central government. Thus, our system of democracy is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a government of Skerrit, by Skerrit and for the benefit of Skerrit and those around him. The right of participation in our governance has systematically been eroded in the last 15years. A right that is supposed to be a duty and which should embrace the basic concepts of the recognition of the fundamental worth and dignity of every Dominican.
To revert to the examination of Hobbes’ theory of democracy, one notes that citizens are not necessarily allowed to vote for the best political representatives or government. This idea gives support to the situation manifested in the 2014 general elections in the constituency of Grand Fond, where a well-educated, qualified, internationally trained and experienced Economist and a wonderful young man was narrowly defeated by a much inferior candidate of the DLP. The DLP successfully demonized the good doctor and presented his head on a platter to his fellow constituents for political slaughter as a “sticky finger” or thief and the people responded accordingly. Our democracy was manipulated to produce a result that did not bring progress to the people, but they were and perhaps are still happy in their delirious euphoria for Labour.
But this is not new and unique to Dominica. Democracy also failed to produce the best result in the 2016 federal election in the United States, proving Hobbes to be right that democracy is indeed a nasty business in which people often vote against their own best interests. Fortunately, democracy as a system of government is very resilient and can always bounce back in time once the checks and balances of the system are functional. Therefore, perhaps we shouldn’t complain too much. We can remain hopeful. Dominica has had the government that it ‘democratically’ elected or allowed to be elected. International Election Observers have confirmed that the results of successive elections including the recently held 06 December 2019 general elections, though declared as unfair, represented the general will of the people of Dominica who went to the polls. Thus, the people have the government they want and deserve.
Dominicans who reside overseas and who were treated or bribed by the DLP government with an airline ticket in violation of our electoral laws must be happy that their selfishly motivated act has produced the result desired. They gravitated towards handouts in satisfying their narrow self-interests at the expense of the good of the country. The non-progressive, crippling mentality that everyone is for himself/herself in a constant battle for power and wealth, irrespective of how such is obtained and maintained is now the dominant force driving our democracy. Greed and the yearning for the accumulation of individual wealth and power justify our support for leaders who are themselves unethical, dishonest, self-centered and wicked. Therefore, it is only when the people of Dominica collectively utilize the power of ‘we the people’ that is guaranteed in a true democracy- that we shall experience real change, growth, true progress, sustainable development and prosperity.