By Rupert Sorhaindo
The clear consensus emerging as the campaign for December 6, 2019, general elections unfolds seems to be, that at this time, the country does not need a change of government, but that it needs a change of opposition.
The argument presented to support that assertion is that while the incumbent government can point to achievements and continues to articulate a vision for the transformation of the economic and social landscape of the country, the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has not done much to persuade the electorate that it is an acceptable alternative.
The Dominican electorate came to that very conclusion in the past three consecutive elections in 2004, 2009 and 2014 when they delivered decisive defeats to the UWP. And while the results of the 2014 general elections provided the opposition with a glimmer of hope when it doubled the number of its elected representatives in the country’s parliament, events during the life of the current parliament seem to have reversed the party’s upward movement in its “popularity”.
The “success” of the UWP 2014 election campaign was attributed to appearance of a new eloquent leader in the person of radio and television “personality” Lennox Linton, supported by a slate of candidates that included three young professionals Dr Thompson Fontaine, former staff member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Joshua Francis; attorney at law with a background in economics and with a pleasant personality; and Joseph Isaac, a qualified production Engineer with extensive management training and experience and likeable personal qualities.
However, the luster of two of those bright young “stars” which held much promise for the UWP began to fade early in its current parliamentary term, after Francis became implicated in a legal matter which is still awaiting judicial review in our courts. The matter was considered serious enough by the UWP hierarchy to justify his removal as deputy leader of the party. The fallout from that episode led to the UWP candidate in the ensuing bye-election in the Soufriere constituency suffering a defeat by a wider margin than that of the previous (2014) election.
And the fact that Francis was subsequently reinstated as deputy leader, obviously out of political expediency, would not have enhanced the image of the UWP. Furthermore, Francis has demonstrated some very bizarre behavior that has raised serious questions about his suitability for public office. He is the UWP candidate for the Roseau South constituency in the 2019 general elections.
Dr Fontaine, who presented himself as a candidate of international stature who stated that he was prepared to give up a lucrative position at the IMF to return “home” to serve his people, having been appointed an opposition Senator in the Dominica House of Assembly abandoned his “commitment” to the service of his people by accepting a job to serve on the joint monitoring and evaluation commission in South Sudan. Interestingly, he continued to receive the salary and other benefits as a Senator even when he did not function in the position for several months. He was removed as a Senator after missing three consecutive meetings of parliament.
On the other hand, the remaining “star” of the trio of professionals Isaac, who had continued to demonstrate objectivity, civility, and statesmanship in and out of parliament, was determined to work toward making the UWP more acceptable to the electorate as an alternative. However, his attempts at influencing the UWP leadership to adopt a more responsible approach were rebuffed; and in the wake of the devastation wrought on Dominica by hurricane Maria, when his colleagues in the UWP continued to adopt a hands-off approach to development of the country and continued to embrace a policy of confrontation rather than collaboration.
Isaac did what one would consider the honourable thing to do; he broke ranks with the opposition party and offered his services to the government of the country. He is now, the candidate for the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) in the Roseau North constituency, and continues to be an advocate for positive engagement by all citizens, in the country’s development.
Looking forward, the need for effective opposition is critical for the preservation of our democracy, especially in the context of what looms on the horizon as another massive mandate for the incumbent DLP.
Kent Vital, leader of the once-dominant Dominica Freedom Party, in my view has squandered a golden opportunity to fill the void by mobilizing committed elements of that political organization and articulating a vision for the development of the country, while at the same time demonstrating objectivity in his assessment of the country’s economic and social realities. It appears that Vital’s focus is on assuming political power in quick time, rather than thinking through a plan that would include progressive steps toward mobilization and earning the trust of citizens.
He has not demonstrated that he understands that rebuilding a political party that has been in the doldrums for over two decades and most of whose members have migrated mostly to the DLP; and to a much lesser extent UWP during that period, is going to require considerable time and tact. Instead, he has latched himself to the bandwagon of a discredited opposition, disregarding obvious opportunities for portraying his party as an acceptable alternative.
As an economist who is toted to have advised other regional governments, he has not been prepared to present the facts and figures documented by regional and international organizations to support claims of the development that continues to take place in Dominica, in the face of constant challenges associated with being a small developing state – especially one in the firing line of regular and devastating weather-related events, in a changing global environment.
Vital has not commented on the irresponsible statements and posturing of the opposition spokespersons who threaten violence. He has joined the chorus of opposition politicians who talk glibly about corruption without providing evidence.
- He joins a mob of demonstrators on Turkey Lane threatening to break down the barricades and hurling threats at the police officers trying to maintain order;
- He is prepared to side with the opposition that would wish to disenfranchise Dominican citizens in the diaspora who have the constitutional right to participate in our elections;
- He has not commented on the efforts of the government toward electoral reform through the drafting of relevant legislation, nor has he commented on the application for an injunction to have the matter not debated in the parliament;
- He has remained mute on the unpatriotic actions of opposition members who were prepared to boycott the Worship and Thanksgiving event, and who sought to disrupt Independence activities on Creole Day and the National Day Parade;
- He has said nothing about the rants of a pastor who issued threats against the elected leader of the country.
By these and many other actions, Vital has demonstrated that he has placed political expediency ahead of commitment to the lofty principles and ideals that he espouses in his pronouncements. And, he has presented himself to the electorate as one of the very politicians that he tells us he would like to have the electorate replace.
Indeed, at this time Dominica needs a new opposition – one that Isaac sought to shape, but which Lennox Linton and his colleagues were not prepared to embrace. That is most unfortunate; and it appears that Dominicans shall have to wait until after the December 6, polls, to see who will emerge as a genuine, credible leader with a vision and temperament to work – too preserve democracy in our fair land.