The OAS observed an electoral process in the Commonwealth of Dominica for the first time in 2009. In preparing to observe the December 8th General Elections in 2014, an OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) comprising electoral specialists drawn from six OAS Member States was sent to Dominica. Following the elections, the OAS mission issued its Preliminary Report on December 9, 2014 and followed up with a verbal report to the Permanent Council of the OAS on 13 December 2014. The OAS Mission focused its work on gathering information about the status of the implementation of past recommendations from the 2009 Electoral Observation Mission, discussed in PART VII of this series. Additionally, the Mission gathered information on the legislative framework, election administration, campaign financing, and women’s participation throughout the electoral process.
The OAS EOM commenced its work on December 4, 2014, four days prior to election day. During that period, the Mission met with a wide range of stakeholders including the President, the Prime Minister, the Electoral Commission, Leaders of all the political Parties, the Police Force, Trade unions, Non‐Governmental Organizations, and delegates from the Commonwealth and CARICOM International Observation Missions, gathering information on the election campaign environment, the political process and aspects related to the organization and administration of the General Elections.
The Mission reported a generally calm environment during the campaign period and observed the respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of expression, assembly and association. It reported on a fire that destroyed major airport equipment at Melville Hall on December 2, 2014. The incident received wide media coverage and sparked an exchange of accusations between the ruling DLP and the UWP over who may have caused the incident. The OAS/EOM discussed the report with local authorities, who confirmed that the issue was being investigated and would be dealt with according to the country’s legal procedures. PM Skerrit later indicated that he was aware who the alleged perpetrators may be. To date, however, the matter remains officially unresolved.
In its meetings with different stakeholders prior to the elections, the same recurring issues that were raised following the general elections of 2005 and 2009 were once again brought to the Mission’s attention as the DLP government had still not taken active steps to implement prior recommendations. They included:
- VOTER REGISTRATION: A number of complaints were made expressing distrust in the accuracy of the Electors List, due to the fact that the number of people registered exceeded the population of the country. The total number of registered voters was 72,484, whereas the 2011 census indicates that the country’s population is approximately 71,293 i.e., the percentage of registered voters to the population was 102 % compared to 94% in 2009. The Electoral Commission informed the OAS/EOM that Dominica’s electoral laws provide for continuous registration as well as strict procedures to remove electors from the list. Therefore, “the Electors List did not intend to reflect the number of persons who are resident in the State at any particular point in time. Instead, the list comprises electors, who reside in Dominica as well as those who are duly registered but are absent from Dominica.” Furthermore, although the objections procedures were made public, the Commission/Electoral Office had only received a few “Notices of Objections” aimed at removing electors from the list in the period required by the law- a failure of the Opposition UWP and something that the Alternative People’s Party (APP) is very serious about. Moreover, the Electoral Office asserted that they had over the years succeeded in removing deceased people confirmed by the Civil Registry.
- VOTER IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM: Concerns were raised that in the 2014 General Elections, as in previous electoral processes in Dominica, the lack of a voter identification system increased the possibility of voter impersonation. In addition, the lack of a voter ID card, among other factors, made it possible for overseas voters who do not meet the residency requirements to vote on Election Day.
- CAMPAIGN FINANCE: The Mission took note of the recurring complaints with respect to the high cost of election campaigning in Dominica. The EOM interlocutors argued that the 2014 electoral campaign had been one of the most expensive campaigns in the country’s history, which was reflected in the number of expensive, elaborate billboards, political paraphernalia and rallies and performances of international artists. It was also advised of allegations regarding the use of state resources in the campaign, leading to suggestions of abuse of authority, incumbency advantage making the electoral playing field uneven among political contenders. Concerns about this issue were so prevalent that members of the OAS Mission were questioned on how these inequities in the political financing system affected “free and fair” elections. The Mission reiterated that the lack of mechanisms to require political parties to publish sources of campaign funding constituted one of the biggest threats to the integrity of the electoral process in Dominica. Additionally, the lack of disclosure mechanisms on campaign expenditures made the issue of vote buying/selling a very difficult phenomenon to investigate and address appropriately. The OAS reemphasized its 2009 recommendation, encouraging the government of Dominica to take advantage of its technical assistance program to reach a cross-party accord to promote transparency and accountability, which would set a high standard for the region. The OAS has developed a Campaign Financing Model law and regulations, which could be used as a starting point.
- TRAVEL ASSISTANCE TO OVERSEAS VOTERS: With respect to this, concerns were raised about transportation and cash assistance to Dominicans living abroad to return to Dominica to vote for a particular political party. Some OAS/EOM interlocutors argued that this practice constitutes a BREACHING OF TREATING & BRIBERY LAWS since Dominicans living abroad are paid travel airfares and given economic incentives to return to the island to vote for particular parties. They also noted that in most cases, these people do not meet the legal residency requirements to be considered “legitimate voters” since they have been absent from Dominica for a period exceeding five years.
- ELECTORAL BOUNDARIES: The OAS/EOM noticed that there was consensus among political parties on the need to revise and update the distribution of voters across constituencies. Since 1990, the number of constituencies in Dominica has remained unchanged, though there are significant imbalances in the number of electors between constituencies. While larger constituencies have more than 7000 registered voters, the smallest has approximately 1569 electors.
- TRANSLUCENT BALLOT BOXES AND ADDITIONAL SECURITY MEASURES: Based on its observations on elections day, the OAS/EOM recommended the introduction of new translucent ballot boxes and additional security measures to safeguard the votes and strengthen the transparency of the electoral process.
- PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN: The OAS/EOM recognizes the historic role that women have played in Dominica, becoming the first country in the Americas to have an elected female Head of Government. Despite the strong participation of women in the organization and administration of the electoral process, it is important to note that only six of the 44 candidates running in this election were women. The preliminary results indicate that out of the 21 seats of the House of Assembly, women will hold only three.
Having observed the elections and released its preliminary, a verbal report was presented to the Permanent Council of the OAS in which the same recommendations mentioned above were reiterated, particularly with respect to;
- A Comprehensive Update of the Elector’s List: The OAS/EOM noted that, although the law provides for the Electors List to be reviewed, the 4 mechanisms used for this purpose were NOT EFFECTIVELY ENFORCED (supposedly by the Commission) and this raised doubts about the total number of citizens who were duly registered and eligible to vote. Moreover, there seems to be wide public support for the revision of the legal procedures guiding the compilation of the Elector’s List. Likewise, chapter 2:03 of the Registration of Electors Act, Section 7.C merits a debate as to whether residency in Dominica should be a prerequisite for voter eligibility. The section states that a person may be removed from the list if the person is “absent” from the country for a period exceeding five years. The use of the word “absent” instead of “residency” generates controversy since Dominicans living overseas can return to the country to vote any time during the five year period. This has led to a highly controversial debate in the country on the weight that overseas Dominicans have on the election. Thus, the Mission reiterates its recommendation to conduct, before the next General Elections (in 2019), a comprehensive process to update the Elector’s List.
- Implementation of a Voter Identification System: There is a consensus across party lines and Dominican society that a voter identification system should be implemented. The OAS/EOM took note that some progress has been made to issue National ID cards, under the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Electronic Government for Regional Integration (EGRIP) project. These ID cards will also be used as voter ID card. Thus, the Mission exhorts Dominican authorities to complete the process of issuing ID cards (of some sorts- Voter or National) before the next election (2019) as long as voters could use these cards to verify their identity as a prerequisite to casting their ballot, where necessary the legislative requirements should be revised to facilitate that process.
- Enactment of Campaign Finance Regulations: Dominica does not have campaign financing laws to limit campaign expenses or require political parties to publish expenditures or the sources of their campaign funds. The House of Assembly (Elections Act) Chapter 2:01 makes no reference to campaign finance regulations. In order to strengthen the transparency and accountability of electoral processes in the Commonwealth of Dominica, the OAS/EOM strongly recommends that consideration be given to the enactment of campaign finance regulations.
- Review of the Electoral Boundaries: In light of the inequitable distribution of voters across constituencies, which creates disparities in representation, the OAS/EOM recommends that, according to the provisions under section 57 of the Constitution, the Electoral Boundaries Commission conduct a comprehensive review of boundaries in order to ensure a more balanced representation of the electorate. This process should be done to ensure that the final result incorporates the input of the government and the opposition.
- Review of the Legislation Governing the Validity of Votes: The Mission takes note that, in keeping with the House of Assembly (Election) Act, poll workers and candidate representatives consider as valid only those ballots marked with a “cross”. This strict interpretation of the law may have led to an unnecessary rejection of valid votes. Taking into account that the technicalities of the marking of ballots should not override the voters’ intention, the Mission strongly recommends reviewing the legislation governing what constitutes a valid vote and harmonizing the procedures for their verification, so that the voters’ intentions are respected and faithfully recorded.
- Promotion of the Political Participation of Women:Dominica has committed itself to upholding the political rights of women through a number of international and regional instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The country’s domestic legal framework also appears to be generally in compliance with Dominica’s international commitments, though the Mission noted that it does not reflect temporary special measures to promote women’s political integration, as allowed by CEDAW Article 4 and emphasized and encouraged by General Recommendations 5 and 25. Thus, the Mission recommended that political parties consider initiatives, including the adoption of gender quotas, training programs and awareness‐raising campaigns, geared towards enhancing leadership roles of women within political parties and throughout the electoral process- a recommendation that the Alternative People’s Party (APP) and the People Party of Dominica (PPOD) appear to have fully embraced.
As the OAS seems to have suggested, it is ultimately up to the citizens of Dominica to have wide public debate on comprehensive electoral reform to inform the process of new legislation or the amendment of existing legislation and legal procedures, which Sir Byron is very competent in assisting with, especially on issues related to the compilation of the Elector’s List, whether residency in Dominica should be a prerequisite for voter eligibility, whether and how person should be removed from the voters list; whether the provision of absenteeism for 5 years or for any period should be maintained or removed, and on campaign financing etc. This is not a matter only for the executive branch of government i.e., PM Skerrit, his cabinet, his nominees to the Commission and his “Sole Commissioner.” Unfortunately, the above recommendations were expected to have benefited from serious consideration long before the next electoral cycle in 2019. That was not to be. The same issues continue to plague us. The DLP government continues to frustrate every effort at electoral reform- as long as it does not get its way. Therefore, it has brought in Sir Byron, a highly recognized and eminent jurist with vast knowledge and experience of the law, to legitimize its positions on many of the issues that the general public opposes. Taking into account the above recommendations and the wishes of the Dominica people, Sir Byron must give Dominicans value for his no-bid $450,000.00 consultancy.