Less than 48 hours before Barbadians go to the polls, an injunction has been filed in the High Court to call off the general election and action brought against President Dame Sandra Mason and the Attorney General.
Philip Catlyn of the Barbados Sovereignty Party claims that the exclusion of more than 5 000 COVID-19 positive citizens from the election breaches Section 6 of the Representation of the People Act, which enshrines the right of eligible residents and citizens to vote.
He contends that Dame Sandra was unreasonably exercising her discretionary powers by accepting Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s election call on December 27.
Veteran human rights attorney Lalu Hanuman is representing Catlyn in the matter. When contacted, he explained that there could be no free and fair election under the present circumstances.
“Clearly, those 5,000 people that are in quarantine, they are currently being deprived of the right to vote because there is no postal ballot, there is no mail ballot or anything like that,” Hanuman told Barbados TODAY.
“You have, under the current regulations, to go to a polling booth unless you’re a diplomat serving abroad. So, in effect, they’ve disenfranchised you in relation to your ability to vote.”
The matter is expected to be heard by Madame Justice Cicely Chase, and both the President and Attorney General Dale Marshall were expected to be served sometime on Monday evening.
The case will be the first involving the president since Barbados became a republic on November 30, 2021, and the outcome could be instrumental in outlining the parameters of the new president’s powers.
According to the plaintiff, it was unreasonable to allow an election in the midst of a pandemic, with no constitutional requirement to hold it at this time and in the absence of an imminent parliamentary threat to the government.
The attorney stressed that under her prerogative powers, the president could have rejected the Prime Minister’s request.
“So what the president could have done was to say ‘well, if you are not prepared to continue being Prime Minister, let somebody else be appointed by the House’. It happens in Italy; it happens all over the world…. We are only three years into the term, and already, we’re having an election. So it’s somewhat premature, especially at this point in time,” argued Hanuman.
He acknowledged that time was of the essence but noted that the matter only became a concern when Chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission Leslie Haynes Q.C revealed that isolated people would be unable to vote.
Hanuman added that the challenge is in no way intended to be an indictment on the Mia Mottley administration. However, the former Chairman of the Barbados Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee said it would be a “negation of principle” not to pursue the matter, noting that many in densely populated, working-class, St Michael households were affected by the developments.
“Quite often, there’s a matter of a couple hundred [votes] in between the winner and the loser and five thousand people not being allowed to vote, obviously makes a huge difference,” said Hanuman.
“We are also saying that the election wouldn’t be free and fair because people are deprived of the right to vote and also because the results wouldn’t reflect the reality because people haven’t been able to attend the polling stations.
“I see this as a fundamental human rights issue because people have been dying for years for the right to vote in South Africa, in Palestine, all over the world. Right here in the Caribbean, people have been fighting for universal adult suffrage, and we cannot just allow it to be taken away and do nothing about it,” the lawyer insisted.