The New Today

Commentary

General election in Grenada during COVID-19 State of Emergency

A general election is next due in Grenada in the year 2023 unless earlier, if decided at the pleasure of the Prime Minister or if called at the deliberate judgment of the Governor-General; according to section 52 of the constitution. This section also provides for an election to be deferred by Parliament beyond the precise limited or due date, at any time when virtually the nation is at war.

Constitutionally a general election should be held to elect members of the House of Representatives for the governance-business of the nation, no more than three months after the dissolution of the Parliament and as stipulated in the Representation of the People Act (RPA).

When the political dynamics are deemed favourable for the ruling party to retain power, a snap election would be strategically directed by the Prime Minister; an unplanned or a premature election can also be called by the Governor-General any time when there is no-confidence virtually in the Prime Minister or that a vacancy exists in the office of the Prime Minister.

Is the time now very appropriate and advantageous for Dr. Keith Mitchell to race his incumbent New National Party (NNP) for an ‘on the spot’ renewal in government?  The politically astute and active Mitchell may well be already eying an early election following the footsteps of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to happen any time of the remaining of this year 2020 or during the first quarter of next year 2021.

What are the political opportunities, inducements and indicators for a snap election to happen within the next six months?  First and foremost; there is the intended Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Control Act and the recurring Declaration of a State Of Emergency due to the pandemic, which gives special sweeping powers to the government and takes away some of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens.

There are also the pending national budget with focus on the realignment of social, economic and legislative policies relative to the pandemic; the heightening utterances on the commencement and continuation of capital projects, including agricultural and village roads; the perceived striking of collaboration and settlement between developers and communities for tourism investments; and the completing and assigning of Chinese housing apartments.

Sympathy and solidarity are sought with excuses, flatteries and reconciliatory gestures on controversial issues such as Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, and litigation and sale about the electricity company (Grenlec).

On the other hand; are the people ready and desirous to have a change in the government?  Would the political dangles, window-dressings and red-herrings by the NNP take hold of the electorate?  Would the level of accusations, disgust and challenges against the NNP-government prevent it from returning to power?

It must be instructive to raise that the current show of an apparent widespread discontent, protest and defiance against the government, which has been prompted and promoted by the youth, cannot guarantee its defeat at an election, unless there is a tremendous shift in the status, attitude and disposition of the collective opposition forces.

It would be foolhardy and futile for the opposition forces to be comfortable, complacent and confident on the basis of any critical professional commentaries, loud public outcries and negative opinion polls, as well as the performance record on the managing of disasters (hurricanes, plagues, etc), about Mitchell’s NNP regime.

Moreover, the issue of corruption, mismanagement and malfeasance in government seems to be of no major concern of the people for a general election, and this may clearly be the case based especially on the political configuration of the needy and the greedy and the decline of morality in the society.

Mitchell began his Prime Ministership in June 1995 and registered the first ‘clean sweep’ for the NNP in a snap election in January 1999 even after his one-seat majority government collapsed on glaring allegation of offences.

Vehement campaigns against those allegations and the abuse of the constitution were then embraced and energised by some prominent members of the March 1979 to October 1983 People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) who joined the Tillman Thomas’ National Democratic Party (NDC) in 2000, Mitchell’s NNP already had other prominent PRG fractions embedded.  The NNP remained in power until removed unanimously in July 2008 by the NDC which promised then a new style of governance and the prosecuting of public officials for the allegations and abuses.

The NDC failed on its threats to bring criminal charges or jailing guilty individuals and this may have resulted in seeing the NNP returning to government in February 2013. Interestingly though, at that election period, the PRG’s stalwart remnants, such as Peter David and Chester Humphrey, who were accommodated previously in the NDC are now in political ‘concession and collaboration and competence’ with the NNP and this afforded great ‘mystified’ assistance for its second and third sweeps at the polls in 2013 and 2018 respectively.

Review the internet-circulated article, “Grenada’s 2018 Elections Win: Keith Mitchell or Peter David?”, which attempts to establish the influential factor of certain PRG comrades in the political status and swings of the nation.

The COVID-19 scenario would surely tempt Prime Minister Mitchell to exploit at a snap election soonest, also with an understanding that this would provide a very narrow window for the unconnected opposition forces to reach a mutual policy, cohesive approach, credible loyalty and impressive entity for the election as well as for in government.

In fact; Mitchell would seize the slightest chance to put his accusers and distracters to ‘shame and silence’ and to boost and empower and consolidate himself on his political policies and doings.  There may also be the consideration that the unsuspecting people would be unconcerned about the holding of the election, by them knowing that despite the pandemic there were general elections in St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

The government would hope that the same general cooperation and compliance of the people to the ‘strange and stringent’ regulations for managing the pandemic in the interest of public health and safety, including the declaration of the State Of Emergency, employ to the call and conditions for an election; without the people considering and addressing any constitutional infringements and ramifications.

Should the people accept and be relaxed with a snap election during this COVID-19 pandemic emergency powers environment, under the current state of the electoral mechanism; realising that like the judicial mechanism, the electoral mechanism is in a very sorry state?

Now more than ever before and maybe for no better compelling reason, vigilant and proactive and resolute stance is imperative against the scant regard extended to the electoral mechanism by the government.

The ambiguities and complexities which plague the electoral mechanism, and the restrictions and suppressions associated with emergency powers, are inclined to effect treason to democracy and destruction of sovereign rights.

Review the previous articles, “Loopholes Characterise Grenada’s Legal System!” and “Grenada COVID-19 Bill 2020: An Impetus and Catalyst for Legal Reforms”, which emphasize the pain of the people for accountability, justice and inclusiveness in governance.

With the hash and haste for its devious feat of constitution reforms, the NNP-government was setting-out to use the RPA exclusively without invoking any regulations pertinent to a referendum, until this erroneous approach was uncovered and pressed for correction, as articulated in articles, “Constitutional Reform: A Referendum Law is Required”, “Grenada Constitution Reform: Referendum Mode”, and “Grenada Constitution Reform: Referendum in Question”.

In a similar vein, the “new normal” brought by the pandemic also necessitates radical legislative adjustments for the conducting of reliable and rewarding general elections; also considering the outstanding citizen urges and official recommendations toward electoral reforms.

It would be misleading for the government to appease and appeal to the people to follow the events in the other Caribbean countries which had ‘successful’ elections, without comparing the legislative provisions and patterns in those countries. Indeed; Mitchell would flex political muscles, with the ‘power, pretence and pretext’ that a State Of Emergency presents.

The people must not be further duped by the NNP-government by allowing it to enter a general election without significant improvements to the pertinent statutory regulations and particularly at this pandemic period, without ensuring suitable preparations including for those people who may be in quarantine.

In fact; it could be argued that the constitution and the RPA contemplate that it is not reasonable to conduct a smooth general election during a State Of Emergency. For example; section 44 of the RPA speaks about the power to adjourn polling day in event of emergency where by reason of “. . . the proclamation of any state of emergency under the Constitution, Chapter 128A or the Emergency Powers Act, Chapter 88; . . . the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence or outbreak of infectious disease or other calamity whether similar to the foregoing or not . . .”.   Preemptive measures for caution and clarity must be taken, and not after the fact.

Regrettably, the main opposition party, NDC, seems not to have a scientific view for winning, especially on understanding the content and consequences of the legal provisions for a general election, as well as the intricacies and intrigues of applying those provisions. The NDC has not demonstrated any strong appreciation that the electoral system is the central gateway to government; or maybe, the case is that it is not serious about governing.

Instead of initiating intense agitations for electoral reforms, the NDC tends to be blaming the NNP for rigging the elections, blaming the electorate for having no official opposition in the Parliament, blaming outside interferences such as the political consulting firm of Cambridge Analytica for losing at the last few polls, and blaming the civil society organisations for not speaking and taking action on such issues.

This blaming game can only be valid when all exhaustive efforts to guard the electoral mechanism are frustrated and failed; NDC needs to assist and asserts itself, as the past article “The Powerful Relevance of NDC in Opposition” seeks to advise.

Would NDC enthusiastically welcome a snap general election during COVID-19 State of Emergency and with a questionable state of the electoral mechanism; and thus disparage and discredit this article?

The article is not advocating for boycotting an election but rather for all opposing parties, social activists, professed Christians, good citizens and bastions of democracy to pose, and to pressure for, significant standards which would reflect electoral integrity; recall the previous internet-circulated article “Could Grenada’s Democracy Be Saved?”.

All senses and strategies must be evident so as not to demand ‘cancellation and concession and correction’ of an election, when the date is announced;  this is essentially to avoid similar ugliness having regional military presence, which took place in Dominica on its 6 December 2019 election.

(JK. Roberts, is a former Public Officer and often describes himself as a Sound Public Policies Advocate)

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