The utterances made, the actions taken, the confidences shown and the results of general elections on the part of the current political leader of the ruling New National Party (NNP), Dr. Keith Mitchell, have caused the common presumption that he has a clear understanding and full control of the electoral mechanism.
Dr. Mitchell first contested elections in February 1972 as a candidate of the Grenada National Party (GNP) of Herbert Blaize, but first entered the Parliament in December 1984 with the ticket of the coalition-formed Blaize-led NNP and has been a Member of Parliament ever since.
Mitchell’s apparently deep aspiration, passion and determination for political power was evident at the NNP’s January 1989 Convention, when as viewed he deceitfully and skillfully maneuvered and secured the position of Party Leader from Prime Minister Blaize; and he holds this position thereafter without any concrete provisions and demands for ‘succession planning’ known.
Mitchell first became Prime Minister in June 1995 and apart from July 2008 to February 2013, he has been Grenada’s Prime Minister despite faced with overwhelming challenges and oppositions, including criticisms of partisan influences on the electoral mechanism.
Being immersed, saturated and obsessed with governance; being conscious to preserve and enrich his political profile; being devoted and indebted to his interests, associates, sponsors and a One-Party Project Grenada; and being cautious not to give any opportunity for criminal charges against his reign; it is expected that Prime Minister Mitchell would be very desperate and aggressive, devising and employing all means, to ensure victory at the next elections.
Many astute and objective pundits do not totally rule-out this feat for Mitchell once again, especially he already has the advantages of being in the Government and seems to have the secret formula for winning elections.
This formula may be also proving to keep his main opponent, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) at bay, by confusing and causing NDC to make foolish moves even on its strategies for leadership and candidacy.
However, as acclaimed national statesman, longest serving parliamentarian in the Caribbean Community and patriot of democracy, it is very ‘distasteful and irresponsible’ to have a Prime Minister instructing his/her party-followers on the eligibility to vote, as Mitchell did on Sunday 24 April 2022 at a tense and excited public rally in a rural parish.
At the official launch of Pamela Moses as candidate for the constituency of St. Patrick East and Victor Phillip as candidate for St. Patrick West, for the soon-to-be-called elections, the Prime Minster said: “… I want to make a special point here tonight. There was recently a rumour going around that if you don’t get your new ID you can’t vote. Let me say this – nonsense. You hear what ah say, nonsense. Sisters and brothers, the voter’s list that is your guide. Check your name. If your name is on the voters list and you can be identified as that voter, no one can stop you from voting.”
“I choose to get the new ID because I might need it for a lot of other things and other reasons too – so I am suggesting that you do if you could get it, get the new ID. The new ID is what it says, identification but when you walk into the polling station and the Presiding Officer says I know your name, I know you are Keith Mitchell, he cannot stop you from voting …”
The tone and expression, as well as the rhetoric and propaganda with this message can be considered to be very loaded with incitement for civil disobedience against the authority for the elections on the voting day, and/or with a recipe for allowing irregularities during the voting process.
Moreover, this occurrence could place the office of the Prime Minister on a collision-course with the office of the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) and in fact, it should not be of any surprise if SOE (Mr. Elvis Morain) resigns ethically as Aaron Francois in 2014 within six months of appointed SOE, or if he is asked to resign amid the campaigning.
The political ploy pitched by Prime Minister Mitchell at the rally registered a robust disrespect for the constitutionally independent office of the SOE, and an outright rejection of the ongoing efforts of this office to conduct the elections in a comfortable, efficient and satisfactory manner; although those efforts might be ‘limited and sluggish’.
This unfortunate and unwarranted hysteria about the “new ID” comes on the heels of a cordial and commendable session had on Thursday, 21 April 2022, which was organised by the SOE for discussions on the presentation of a draft Bill, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2022, hopefully to be debated in Parliament.
The presentation dealt principally with the replacement of ‘expired’ voter Identification (ID) cards and it was ably guided by an expert drafter from the Ministry of Legal Affairs, and the SOE.
There was the presence and participation of various political parties and independent candidates, as well as civil society organisations including the Conference of Churches; and indeed representatives of both NNP and NDC.
The public’s awareness of the pertinent issues including the approaches, surrounding the Expired Cards began in January 2020 by the SOE.
By the Prime Minister’s reaction and affirmation on the pertinent issues, are the Grenadian people to realise the demonstration of the evolution of a ‘lawless and autocratic’ society; as already has being reflecting in many areas of governance, including the observance/non-observance of judicial orders?
Sections 29, 32 and 39, with related provisions, of the Constitution highlight the requirements and procedures for the election of a member to the House of Representatives, and also point to a main statute governing the registration of voters and the treatment of registered voters on Elections Day.
This statute is the Representation of the People Act (RPA, CAP. 286A); it consists of over one hundred extensive sections, four detailed schedules and about ten pieces of different amendments.
Thus, it’s a travesty for the rule of law, peace and unity, and even in explaining the intents and substances of the RPA, to have a Prime Minister making open remarks as was done to individuals needing answers.
With particular reference to the right to vote, the need for an ID card and the role of the Presiding Officer, including “question to be put to voters and identification on card”; sections 5, 8, 24 and 59 of the RPA, together with other related provisions, give the general guidelines which allow someone to vote.
Instructively according to section 5; “Subject to this Act, a person is entitled to vote in an election in a constituency, if on polling day, he is qualified and registered as an elector in that constituency, and his name appears on the current list to be used for that constituency”.
The phrase “Subject to this Act” implies a host of other conditions which includes the use of an ID card; although the legal ramifications about a valid ID card, or specifically an ‘expired card’, for voting is still out for the jury.
Is it possible for the name of an unauthorised, an unregistered or an unqualified person to appear on the voter’s list? Oh yes! Could a person vote more than once in elections, and/or vote in a polling station where he/she shouldn’t? Oh yes!
An ID card, whether old or new, is important; since it should have, or label, every elector with a unique number, especially considering many persons in a polling division can have the same name.
The attitude and message oozed by the Prime Minister can also be construed and concluded as a spit in the face of ‘Overseas Elections Missions’.
On the 13 March 2018 elections, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and CARICOM expressed grave concerns and meaningful suggestions about the ID card.
The OAS Mission noticed multiple instances where the cards were not presented to and viewed by the Presiding Officer (nor requested by any of the officials); and upon enquiring the Mission was advised that requesting and reviewing Voter ID cards were optional – “although the personnel in the respective polling stations admitted that they did not know all of the persons on the Voters’ List for their polling divisions”.
According to the Report, “It is critical that all election workers adhere to the prevailing statutory regulations, to ensure consistency and transparency in electoral procedures” and that the authorities emphasise “the importance of adhering strictly to the Voter ID requirement” which is possible by providing specific tools to assist in the identification of electors – “particularly those who may present themselves without their Voter ID cards”.
The CARICOM Mission chronicled; “… In the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the voting process and … to strengthen the process…” on the need “to conclusively identify voters who do not have a card. …each elector’s demographic record should be made available in the polling station to assist the Presiding officer in achieving satisfaction of an elector’s identity in instances where the card is not available. … “.
Has the Prime Minister relegated the significance and application of the sovereign Voter Identification Card to business purposes, as some people regard the abuse of the selling of passports for business purposes under the Citizenship By Investment programme?
Is Mitchell concerned about Value For Money to produce digitalised ID cards, with thousands of dollars solicited/granted and budgeted?
The spirit of the office of SOE can be dampened, and thus the required level of surveillance and seriousness may not be forthcoming in the coming elections. SAD!