Former Opposition Leader and head of the Alliance Party for Progress (APP) Bishop Joseph Atherley is describing as disdainful and disrespectful, Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s handling of the thousands of Barbadians who will not be allowed to vote on Wednesday because they are COVID-19 positive.
Bishop Atherley said on Monday he was astonished that with two days to go before the general election, the Prime Minister had not addressed the nation regarding the more than 5,000 people in home isolation who will not be able to exercise their franchise.
The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has indicated that under the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 directives, no one in isolation would be allowed to leave their place and go to the polls.
“I am flabbergasted that up until this moment, the Prime Minister has chosen not to say anything to the people of Barbados; over the fact that her party, which championed the cause of universal adult suffrage in Barbados years ago, has said nothing to the people of Barbados who will be disenfranchised,” the APP leader told Barbados TODAY.
“That is the thing I am concerned about. That nothing is said to the people of Barbados. It is disrespectful; it is almost disdainful. It is very much in keeping with the fact that you called an election in the middle of a pandemic and you are going to be exposing people in multiple numbers on Election Day. That is a serious thing.”
EBC chairman said at a press conference on Monday that as of Sunday, just over 5,600 people were in isolation and it is estimated that number could surpass 6,000 by Election Day.
Bishop Atherley expressed concern about the number of people who would be left out of the vote.
“Today, the number stands, as I understand it, at about 5,000 people who are isolated and quarantined and who, therefore, do not have a right to vote due to no fault of their own.
“And I think it is a sad thing that the Prime Minister has said only to the people of Barbados she has to take some briefings on the matters. She did that about two weeks ago… a week and a half ago. But as far as I know, nothing else since then. And there are 5,000 people from the official figures right now…. By the time this election rolls around Wednesday, we could be up for 7,000 or 8,000… depending on the spread,” he argued, adding that while those who tested positive are blocked from voting, there may be people standing in line to vote on Election Day who may have COVID-19 and don’t know it.
The APP leader made it clear he had no quarrel with the EBC as their hands were bound by the COVID-19 directive that is in place.
“They can’t do anything with the directives as they are. I am not going to complain about them. The Prime Minister has essentially thrown them to the wolves…thrown them under the bus, leaving them to take the blame for something that she, by her actions, has done unnecessarily so, a year-and-a-half before the constitutionally due date. That is the thing that most concerns me,” he declared.
Deputy APP leader Lynnette Eastmond also weighed in on the issue.
“I don’t know what is going to happen with this election with so many people not being able to vote and people feeling dejected. The whole campaign has been fraught with those difficulties,” said Eastmond whose United Progressive Party recently merged with Atherley’s People’s Party for Democracy and Development to form the APP.
She told Barbados TODAY there were ways to facilitate persons in home isolation being able to vote.
“My view is that one of the ways that it can be done is that you could put out a call that there is a mobile voting unit for each constituency or divide it how you want to divide it. The person would call and say that they want to vote. The ECB would say the time that they would be able to vote.
“You would go through the constituencies to where the people are isolated. You would have ECB officials and you would have a security person, maybe from the Barbados Defence Force. Then you get there and set up your table or what have you. It could be a mobile booth that you just take out and put there. Then the person can come, vote and drop it the ballot box,” Eastmond suggested.
“Barbados is not a huge country so the number of isolated people, even though they might be high, it isn’t going to end up being the number of households that we think it would be for each constituency,” she said.
“And if the constituency is big, you can even divide it into four. And that could be finished within the course of the same polling day.”
The APP candidate for St Philip West also responded to reports of election workers saying they would not be handling any ballots from COVID-positive persons.
“We do that all the time. If somebody is in home isolation, they have to send out somebody to buy supplies. If today you found out you had to be isolated and you don’t have anything in your fridge because you didn’t have a chance to buy anything, you have to take some money out of your pocket, somebody could come by the window and you would give them $100 or whatever it is to go off and buy something for you. So that is happening anyway,” she argued.
“How long does COVID live on a ballot paper?”
Last Friday, Prime Minister Mottley made it clear that she was not involved in the conduct of general elections, amid repeated calls for authorities to make provisions for COVID-19 positive patients to cast their ballots.
Speaking at a press conference at the Lawns in St George, she said the matter rests with the EBC.
“A Prime Minister of Barbados has no locus standi in the conduct of general elections; that is a matter solely for the Electoral and Boundaries Commission,” Mottley declared.