On 30 September 2013, the Governor General unceremoniously fired Judy Benoit, Supervisor of Elections after she refused to tow the political line. From then, the electoral process and system in Grenada, have been under sustained attack.
Unfortunately, the National Democratic Congress has been, for the most part, the lone voice speaking out against this attack. We called for much needed reform to the election law, the Representation of the People Act (“the RPA”), but no change was made even though Government expressed its commitment to electoral reform.
The NDC had several meetings with the Supervisor of Elections between 2016 and 2017, the last of which was on 31 May 2017. We made recommendations for changes to the RPA. Eventually, a bill was tabled in Parliament in September 2017, which included some of our recommendations and others, we presume from other political parties. Among the proposed changes was a provision to exempt people allergic to ink, from immersing their finger in the electoral ink after voting. Nothing was proposed to plug the obvious loophole that such a change would have created. The NDC publicly voiced its objection to this particular amendment. Using that objection as a pretext, government withdrew the entire RPA (Amendment) Bill. We believe that they were never interested in amending the electoral law in the first place.
The many deficiencies in the RPA and in the operations of the electoral office allowed the powers that be to manipulate the system to its advantage and this played a key role in the outcome of the 13 March elections. The machinations of the operatives of the NNP within the system helped the NNP to win the elections. Grenadians of all political persuasions agree that the outcome of the elections left us with an unhealthy state of affairs for our country.
The government is now embarking on a second Referendum. The indication is that the people will be asked to vote on the single question of Grenada’s accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice. The people of Grenada are being asked to vote in a Referendum, under the same electoral law and process that was utilised in the 13 March General Election. If the system was manipulated to favour the incumbent, should the people of Grenada be asked to vote again, this time to change our Supreme Law without fixing the flaws in the current system? That is why the NDC says, we should not have another round of voting before the system is fixed.
Two overseas missions monitored the elections, one from Caricom and one from the OAS. Both published preliminary reports in which they made very strong recommendations for changes to our electoral law before another vote is held. Indeed, some of these changes were recommended by the OAS Observer Mission that monitored the elections in 2013.
The Caricom and the OAS Observer Missions made observations and recommendations pointing to the unreliability of the current voters’ list and the several instances in which the electoral officials did not adhere to the law before and on election day. They identified several areas of the law that need to be strengthened many of which were pointed out by the NDC before. Both set of observers recommended that certain areas of the RPA should be amended to safeguard the integrity of and to strengthen the voting process. The Caricom observers said in their report:
“The voter registration process is a critical element to the successful outcome of the electoral process and therefore any perception real or imagined that this process is flawed affects public confidence and trust in the overall integrity of the electoral process.”
We in the NDC could not agree more with this observation. That is why we urge the administration to ensure that these matters are addressed before any Referendum is held. Indeed, the NDC will not support a Referendum on any subject until the matter of electoral reform, including campaign financing is addressed. We say further, that any changes to the RPA and the operations of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections must be undertaken only after proper consultation with all concerned.