Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Kristina Hinds and Aaron Kamugisha
On January 19, 2022, Barbados is scheduled to hold its 16th election since universal adult suffrage in 1951, its 12th after independence in 1966, and its first following the advent of its status as a republic in 2021.
This election risks becoming the first in post-adult suffrage history to be considered flawed and illegitimate due to the inability of thousands of citizens to vote, who are under state mandated orders not to leave their place of isolation due to a positive COVID-19 test.
It is difficult to estimate the number of persons thus affected, but if we take recent figures as a guide it is not unreasonable to assume that up to 5,000 persons out of an electoral voting list of between 250,000-260,000 will be unable to exercise their franchise.
The following is a statement by two political scientists based at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus and in the Caribbean diaspora, on these developments.
At election time, political scientists are highly visible, more so than at any other time in our careers, as we are called upon to offer insights on the campaign, the burning issues of the time, and the outcome.
Political scientists like all members of the public have personal views and political commitments, but we try to put these aside in the interests of serving the public as best we can, and with a professional integrity that demands that we do not proselytise our views, but proffer rigorous and thoughtful analysis.
On the question of the enfranchisement of voters, we note that we are not constitutional lawyers, and do not approach this topic in this manner. Our discipline teaches us that laws are constructed by humans in time and place, molded by the specific conjuncture of the time, and predicated on the class interests and temper of the ruling elites. In short, the law is far from an abstract, timeless phenomenon, and can be changed.
Our position less than one hundred hours before the commencement of voting, is that the situation as it now exists in which thousands of citizens will be denied the ability to vote is an indictment of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Cabinet of Barbados, that it amounts to the disenfranchisement of citizens of this country, and that a resolution must be found in which all are allowed the right to vote.
Conducting an election in the midst of a global pandemic is not an easy proposition, nor do we seek to trivialise the challenges faced in doing so. However, we feel bound to intervene given the recent statements by both the chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Prime Minister. We take exception to the sophistry of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Prime Minister, who each claim that their hands are tied on this matter.
In doing so, they are both being highly economical with the truth. The EBC had a duty to prepare for the possibility that an election would be called within the pandemic, and to make or lobby for the necessary laws that would facilitate the enfranchisement of all.
The Prime Minister, as the head of cabinet, has the ability to suspend the emergency orders that compel covid positive persons to stay within their residence or place of confinement.
To pretend that neither has a responsibility to the country is absurd. This is made more so by the fact that there are existing models in other Caribbean countries who have had elections since the pandemic commenced – particularly Jamaica, in which elections are a far larger, more complex undertaking, and posed greater logistical challenges than Barbados.
Our view is that there is simply no solution to this situation which does not involve the recall of parliament, followed by legislative arrangements put in place that will allow persons to vote. This will necessarily for the first time in Barbadian history, require a brief postponement of the date of elections.
As unfortunate and controversial as a postponement might be, the greater error would be to allow an election to proceed in which thousands of voters are disenfranchised, the first time since universal adult suffrage in 1951 that such a scenario has existed. It is frankly reprehensible, and we call on those with the power to address this, namely the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Cabinet of Barbados and the President, to do their duty at this late hour, and to not allow the first election under the Republic of Barbados to be the first since adult suffrage to not be a free and fair one, and to be open to constitutional challenge.
Kristina Hinds, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work, UWI, Cave Hill Campus. Aaron Kamugisha, Ruth Simmons Professor of Africana Studies, Smith College.