In a world where more than half of the world’s population lives under autocratic rule, denied full civil liberties we daily take for granted, free and fair elections are paramount.
In the Commonwealth Caribbean, democracy is sacrosanct. On the global stage, our record of democratic elections and governance is, for all its warts and flaws, sterling, and a thing rightly to be cherished.
Our long-held tradition that a country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair is evident in the decades of peaceful ballots from Belmopan in the West to Bridgetown in the East.
It is for these reasons and more that we look across the waters at our beloved Nature Isle of the Caribbean with grave concern.
The 2019 General Election is scheduled to be held in another 24 hours but the campaign has been marred by violent protests. A number of citizens have taken to the street to vent their demands desire for electoral reform and fair and transparent poll – calls expressed by the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) for a long time.
Videos on social media showed residents of Marigot which is represented in parliament by UWP leader Lennox Linton, blocking main roads in the constituency and burning debris on the street.
This behaviour has been witnessed in the island’s 41st year of Independence. Dominica’s elections have long been well conducted.
Now more than ever Dominica needs to have a peaceful election. The world certainly is watching.
But more importantly, Dominica needs stability to continue on its new path of development, to fulfil its declaration to the world that it would become the world’s first climate-resilient nation after being brought its knees by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
It is no secret that critical development cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically elected government that represents the interest of its citizens. Thus, free and fair elections provide an important opportunity for growth and prosperity.
Barbados has always stood with Dominica, whether it be after the crippling ravages of Hurricane Maria or during the needless pre-election violence now. But as we stand with the republic we also stand for shared values – justice and rule of law, free and fair elections, honest governance.
We side with our Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong who has labelled the ongoing protests as “unfortunate”.
The envoy told this media house: “That’s not our tradition. Our tradition is that the people go to the polls and the people speak.
“And the people determine, through voting at the polls, who will govern their country for the next five years.
“And this is what needs to happen in Dominica.
“I think I would be reflecting the collective opinion of the entire Caribbean Community that those kinds of actions and tactics, those kinds of disruptive and potentially violent actions and tactics are uncalled for and should not happen.”
This is not to suggest that the defiant voices calling for cleaning of the voters’ list and the issuing of ID cards to voter should be silenced.
Responsible civic participation is a must. Violent protests are not.
We acknowledge that the Report of the Joint CARICOM-Commonwealth-OAS Special Mission to Dominica issued back in September urged authorities to improve the system of voter identification of voters on Election Day and adjust electoral boundary discrepancies, among other things to help the island maintain the integrity of its electoral system.
Much of the blame can be shared if these steps were not taken. But now, 24 hours before hardworking Dominican voters trek to the poll, casting blame will not matter.
We call on all sides of the party divide to put the Commonwealth of Dominica first. Let all Dominicans, regardless of political persuasion, remain focused on the words of the national anthem: “We must prosper! Sound the call, in which everyone rejoices, All for Each and Each for All.”