Dominica: The announcement of Snap General Elections in the Commonwealth of Dominica has attracted the opinion of people across the world as the opposition has decided to back off and not contest the elections. The opposition’s decision is criticized not only by the political fronts in Dominica but also by political enthusiasts worldwide.
Dr Gerard Jean-Jacques (PhD) Political Science from Université Laval, Quebec, Canada, has recently shared his point of view on the political scenario in Dominica and took the social media platform LinkedIn to share his opinion with the general audience.
At the beginning of his post, Jacques quoted Counsel Tiyani Behanzin, speaking at a joint press conference held by opposition groups and political parties on November 11, 2022, “The election is not fraudulent although it may be wrong, that is a judgement issue…all of the parties sitting there would have pulled elections from the regular period for which it would have been called constitutionally; Freedom did it several times, Labour did it several times, the UWP did it….when you did it then it wasn’t illegal, it was not fraudulent, it was not evil so, why is it now? Why can’t the opposition go back to their members, distil from them their intentions….”
His post further read that since the declaration by PM Skerrit on November 6 that General Elections will be held on December 6, 2022, the opposition (lowercase “o” employed to denote all parties that do not support the Dominica Labour Party) has been in complete disarray; even more so the official opposition, the United Workers Party (UWP). They cannot seem to agree on whether the call is illegal, fraudulent, or illegitimate. In fact, the initial reaction was that the call was illegal and fraudulent, then someone suggested “illegitimate,” and the crowd moved with that too. Gradually, voices like that of Mr Behanzin chimed in, and the reaction moved from illegal and illegitimate to… “immoral.” Behanzin’s clearly articulated comment did not succeed in guiding his associates. It is the objective of this essay, consequently, to attempt to shed light on the question of illegitimacy in democratic politics, not to focus on the call for the December 6 elections because this argument has already been settled. The election call is neither illegal/fraudulent, illegitimate, nor “immoral.” Instead, the focus will be on the call by the UWP to boycott the elections, which is the only illegitimacy surrounding the 2022 General Elections.
He explained his insights concluded through the following points:
Basic Values of Elections in a Democracy
American Political Scientist Robert Alan Dahl is accepted in political science as one of the top modern-day luminaries and authorities on democracy. In his seminal work, Polyarchy. Participation and opposition, he identifies two fundamental values to a modern democracy, such as we are in Dominica: contestation and inclusiveness. Generally, the literature on democratic elections acknowledges this frame. The terms may vary; some prefer “competition and participation;” many refer to the plurality of the democratic process, i.e., the openness of systems to allow any and all actors to represent voices and contest for a position at the decision-making table. At the heart of these two values is the requirement for structures (institutions, laws, processes, etc.) that favour the participation of all in the democratic process. Consequently, issues pertaining to access for persons with physical challenges must be addressed, as well as access by political parties to the machinery of the democratic process, such as electoral office, electoral commission, the Court, avenues for the voices of the electorate to be heard and featured (free media, parliament, etc.), and access by citizens to their representatives.
Inclusiveness, therefore, also raises the question of representation because every citizen cannot sit in parliament to have his (masculine form used in its generic sense here) say. We are all represented by political actors who gain their legitimacy to represent us through our vote or otherwise consent. It is this representative who must mingle with the citizens in order to understand their condition, listen to them when they speak, and convert their expressed wishes into reality. This conceptualization of representation does not distinguish along party lines, however. The distinguishing line is the constituency boundary, physical and ideational. Once the representative is elected, he is the conduit through which every voter speaks in parliament. His presence is also on behalf of those who did not vote for him, though, because representation does not distinguish among citizens. Consequently, PM Skerrit is the Prime Minister for all Dominicans, and the Leader of the Opposition is also the legal representative of all Dominican voices. This is the understanding of democratic representation that dominates in this essay, and it is this acceptance of the foundations of democracy, à la Dahl, that guides the analysis here.
Without clouding the discussion, therefore, we can simply place the boycott call by the Opposition UWP within the lenses of the above discussion on the democratic foundations in order to understand in what way that reaction is illegitimate. In fact, it is also possible to successfully argue that the UWP’s history of boycotts as the official Parliamentary Opposition has been illegitimate and illegal, but this is not the subject to be treated here. Instead, we will focus on the party’s call to boycott the 2022 elections.
First, there was no national consultation with the voter. In that contribution by Mr Behanzin (in which there were audible calls for him to be booted out from the press conference), he goes on to indicate that a UWP actor had, in fact, assured him that the actor “had gotten approval from his members.” Well, which members? When and where did the UWP, the Parliamentary Opposition, meet with the electorate of Dominica to indicate that it wished to renege on its obligation to represent its voice? There is no evidence of constituency consultation or national consultation with the electorate in Dominica on this issue. In fact, the UWP seemed to have caught its breath and found its voice a full two days after the announcement and the Leader of the Opposition, the former Leader of the Party, almost a week after that announcement! There was no invitation in the media to a consultation on the matter. None! Whose voice is represented in its decision to boycott if it did not consult Dominicans? Indeed, it could be that one of the three UWP Members of Parliament did converse with a core group of supporters on the issue before taking a decision, however. Nevertheless, the public knows of no effort by the UWP to reach a national consensus on this boycott or to simply gauge the public’s sentiments on the election call. It is reasonable, therefore, to say that there was no consultation with the voters of Dominica on this decision. Its decision to boycott is consequently that of a clique, a group of political actors who have acted, without shame, in an autocratic and anti-democratic manner. It is its decision that is, consequently, without legitimacy.
Second, the boycott itself. The UWP’s decision to boycott the elections is consistent with its record in Dominica of absenting itself from key milestones in the development of Dominica. It is not surprising, therefore. It is what the Dominican electorate has come to know from the party, another boycott. This boycott, however, is especially frightening because it weakens the legitimacy of the party, it is illegitimate, and it is anti-democratic. The Party’s Executive will ruminate on the first. Having discussed the illegitimacy of the decision, let us discuss further the antidemocratic nature of this boycott. If the political party is the voice of the voter, it stands to reason that when the party absents itself from the policy arena, the voter is denied his opportunity to have his voice heard and counted. The boycott of the elections is, consequently, a violent denial of the democratic right of the 16,424 voters who chose it in the 2019 Elections and the 23,643 who did not vote for it. It is little wonder, therefore, that there are new candidates presenting themselves as Independent Candidates; the silenced are insisting on having their voices represented in the policy arena. Any derogation of the duty to represent the voices of the people is assuredly an attempt to suppress, forcibly, the right of the people to the representation of their voices and concerns, and wishes. It is in this way that the UWP’s boycott call, as a response to the election call by PM Skerrit, is anti-democratic. The irony is that the party portrays itself as the defender of “our democracy.”
Now, arguably, the Parliamentary Opposition ceases to exist once parliament is dissolved, and therefore, the UWP is under no constitutional obligation to those who elected it to parliament in 2019. Well, can a political party suddenly divorce itself from the commitment it made to the people to represent its voices because of the legal dissolution of parliament for the purpose of general elections? The UWP can not until a new Opposition has been elected. Besides, as a registered political party in Dominica, it automatically commits to representing the voices of the people. This is a fundamental function of any political party in a democracy. Consequently, the dissolution of parliament does not absolve the UWP from its duty to both seek clearance from the Dominican electorate to boycott the 2020 elections and then, subsequently, to do so. It is in this regard that the party’s reaction to the call for elections is both illegitimate and anti-democratic.
All this huff and puff that we hear from the opposition today regarding the 2022 General Elections is, consequently, misdirected energy. The call was made within the language and spirit of the Constitution, and there is no hurdle obstructing the participation of opposition forces in the elections that is extraneous to those actors. If they decide to stay away, that is their choice. Besides, with two political parties and 19 Independent Candidates contesting the elections, competing for votes, the legitimacy of the elections is reinforced. The call for elections is, therefore, legal and legitimate. Additionally, any argument about the timing of the elections is also a red herring, an attempt by opposition actors to deflect away from their inability to build a platform that will attract voters. Every political actor will seek, legally (at least), to maximize political opportunities for his survival in office. It is the boycott call of the UWP and other opposition actors that is illegitimate and anti-democratic because it is done without the consent of the people, and it aggressively suppresses the democratic right of the electorate. The question now is, consequently, how will the repercussions of this assault on our democracy manifest themselves in the coming months?