Dominica’s President elect, Sylvanie Burton is slated to assume office as the first female President of Dominica on the 2nd of October. Naturally, such a momentous development is grabbing headlines, not just in the Caribbean but all over the world.
Not only has President elect Burton made history by being the first female Head of State for the nation, she is also the first President that hails from the island’s indigenous ‘Kalinago’ tribe. This has made her an excellent representation of women empowerment and the indigenous populace of the nation at the same time.
Needless to say, her appointment has caught the eye of every Dominican citizen, who is either excited or intrigued by this election. Having said that, one can’t ignore the irony of the fact that her opposite number in the election was Anette Sanford, who herself is a woman of the ‘Kalinago’ tribe.
In that regard, the result of this election would have been a historic one for Dominica, regardless of which direction it took.
President elect Sylvanie Burton was born in Salybia, in the Kalinago territory of Dominica. She is 58 years old, married and the mother of two children. Her qualifications are a reflection of why she has emerged as an excellent leader, as she holds a bachelor’s degree in rural development and a master’s degree in project management.
Those qualifications, coupled with her zeal towards helping improve the lives of her people, have made her an excellent choice for the role she is about to play.
To understand her political background, it is important to list the many roles she has played with in the bounds of the government’s framework, prior to being elected as the president.
Sylvanie Burton has served as a permanent secretary in multiple ministries since 2014. Some of them include the ministries of Community Development, Environment, Rural Modernization, Kalinago Upliftment, and Constituency Empowerment, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Youth and Social Services.
She has also held the position of a Development Officer in the Ministry of Kalinago Affairs, which allowed her to work for the benefit of her tribe in a greater capacity.
Sylvanie Burton is now the president elect, set to take office on the 2nd of October, under the nomination of the incumbent government’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. Prime Minister Skerrit nominated her as a replacement for the outgoing President Charles Savarin.
A slight controversy ensued when the nomination was submitted, as Jesma Paul Victor, the leader of opposition rejected the bid. This prompted the election process to begin, in which the opposition positioned their own candidate against Sylvanie Burton, but to no avail.
The long serving President Charles Savarin had held the position for 10 years and has left an indelible legacy behind him. Many have received Sylvanie Burton’s nomination with a considerable degree of optimism and see her as a good replacement for someone with the experience and tact of President Savarin.
She might not hold the stature that President Savarin can boast of with immediate effect, but Sylvanie Burton is seen to be a highly experienced politician in her own right. She is expected to grow in the role of President significantly as time passes.
Controversy surrounding the nomination:
The opposition, through leaders like Sean Douglas, made a concerted effort to dispute Sylvanie Burton’s bid. Their objection was based on the fact that Burton was an active senior public worker which according to them, went against the conditions for nomination in the Dominican Constitution.
In a statement regarding the matter, Sean Douglas said the following, “The nominee has engaged in certain acts which offend the Public Service Act, in which if she is President warrant her removal from office and as such the House should not proceed on the election of the President as Sylvanie Burton being a candidate or nominee”.
Prime Minster Roosevelt Skerrit was quick to retort and questioned the viability of what the opposition was calling facts. He said, “All of what the Senator would have said in his arguments to the House to indicate that the candidate Sylvanie Burton is not qualified cannot stand.”
According to him, Burton had left the aforementioned position in the government on September 11 of this year.
“What I would say to the Senator and I would ask him to research the very same arguments he is making in respect to Mrs Sylvanie Burton…is to ask him whether he has also investigated the qualification or disqualification of the Leader of the Opposition’s candidate and whether he is aware…that the arguments he is using against Mrs Sylvanie Burton that his candidate is in violation of that section of the Constitution”.
The Prime Minister also made it a point to show his dissatisfaction in the fact that the nation’s representatives failed to choose their 12th Head of State in a unanimous and dignified manner.
Prime Minister Skerrit went as far as to request a 5-minute pause in parliamentary proceedings to allow Sean Douglas to check his facts. Following the break, when he failed to answer the questions put to him, Opposition Leader Jesma Paul Victor made a motion to proceed with the balloting procedures.
Despite this, the Speaker of the House Joseph Issac reminded MPs that the objection brought up by opposition MPs might be taken to the Court of Appeals for the sake of clarity on the matter.
“I said this morning we were a little late because…we were dealing with the same qualification issue,” he said, adding, “first and foremost, the qualification jurisdiction has to be at the High Court, the Court of Appeal.”
“So the House is not going to deal with the issue of qualification, we are going to proceed with the voting for the President,” Isaac said.
Prime Minister Skerrit took the time to sing the praises of the outgoing president. He said that President Savarin has offered “a service of distinction, a service of commitment, a service of love of nation, and a service to a country so vast, so profound, so sincere”
It would be an understatement to say that these are traits which Sylvanie Burton will try to emulate. Even though it would be hard to follow in the footsteps of President Savarin, President elect Sylvanie Burton is seen as someone who has the capacity and the gumption to pull it off.