General Elections and the Law

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

Now that 4 years have gone since Grenada’s last general election on 19 February 2013, the electorate seems to be warming up to the impending reality of the next general election. In accordance with sections 52 and 53 of the Grenada Constitution, the last date on which the next general election could be constitutionally held is 25 June 2018. However, as it stands, the incumbent Prime Minister has the authority to call the date at any time before that last date. In picking an appropriate date, an astute Prime Minister would inevitably take several factors into consideration which factors may include, inter alia, the state of the national economy, the availability of several job opportunities, the readiness of the ruling party’s machinery, the perceived readiness of the main opposition party and the readiness of the state’s electoral office.

As a consequence of the above, some are of the view that when a Prime Minister is able to choose a date for elections based upon his or her own whims and fancies the Prime Minister is shrouded with an unfair advantage. It is claimed that having a fixed date for elections is a much fairer way. Others are of a differing view and say that having a fixed date for elections substantially diminishes the political excitement amongst the electorate and may even have the tendency of unnecessarily prolonging the life of an unproductive unpopular government. Be that as it may, the electorate did not take the opportunity to appropriately amend the Constitution when Referendums were held on 24 November 2016. It is therefore still up to the incumbent Prime Minister to call the date for elections at any time.

Sections 52 and 53 of the Constitution provide that Parliament may continue for 5 years from the date of its first sitting following the last general election, provided that Her Majesty is not engaged in warfare. Section 53 makes allowance for the general election to be held within 3 months after any dissolution of Parliament. The term “dissolution of Parliament” refers to the end of the life of a Parliament prior to the holding of a general election. Since Independence on 7 February 1974, Grenada has had 9 Parliaments. The abovementioned term must be distinguished from the term “prorogation of Parliament” which refers to the end of one of the sessions of Parliament which takes place during the life of a parliament. In accordance with section 51 (2) of the Constitution, there shall be a session of Parliament once at least in every year. At the beginning of each session, the Governor-General reads the “Throne Speech” which outlines government’s plans for the upcoming parliamentary term. The present Ninth Parliament of Grenada is in its 5th Session and may be prorogued or dissolved at any time.

Other constitutional provisions which directly affect the process for the holding of general elections are section 35 which enables a Supervisor of Elections to have the responsibility for the registration of voters and for the conduct of elections and sections 54, 55 and 56 which cater for the establishment of a Constituency Boundaries Commission to delimit electoral constituencies. The constitutional provisions for the holding of general elections in Grenada are boosted by the Representation of the People Act, No. 286A of the 2010 (formerly 1993) Revised Laws of Grenada (“the Act”). The Act outlines the details of the constitutional provisions. Many countries have made constitutional arrangements for the establishment of an Electoral and Boundaries Commission comprising representatives from the governing and main opposition parties to perform the functions of both a Supervisor of Elections and a Constituency Boundaries Commission. Many are of the view that Grenadians lost a golden opportunity to amend the Constitution accordingly on the occasion of the last Referendums in order to enable a more transparent electoral process.

Section 36 of the Act authorises the Governor-General to issue certain Writs for the holding of a general election when once Parliament is dissolved and a date is set. These writs are then forwarded to the Supervisor of Elections for transmissions to the several returning officers of the respective constituencies. The writs specify the date and time for the taking of the polls and for the nomination of candidates. Every returning officer of each constituency is responsible for the taking of the polls and the counting of the votes for the various candidates and for informing the Supervisor of Elections of the results. The Supervisor has the responsibility of returning the writs to the Governor-General with the relevant results by a stated date. Based upon the results, the Governor-General then, in accordance with section 58 of the Constitution invites the person who appears to him or her to be likely to command the support of the majority of the House of Representatives to be the Prime Minister. Section 66 makes provision for the appointment of a Leader of the Opposition in case there is an opposition member in the House who is capable of being so appointed.

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