AS the saying goes, in party politics “all things are possible”—including, of course, success and defeat at free and fair elections and, by extension, related court rulings.
Within the past two days two opposition parties—one in Dominica, the other in Antigua and Barbuda—had to contend with this reality based on separate court decisions.In the case involving Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt and his Education Minister, Peter Saint Jean, the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) suffered a political blow with the dismissal by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of its appeal against a ruling by High Court judge, Gertel Thomas, that they had failed to provide specific evidence against both in relation to citizenship qualifications to contest the 2009 general elections.
Not surprisingly, while Prime Minister Skerritt and his Dominica
Labour Party were rejoicing over the decision by the court, former UWP leader, Ron Green — who, along with party colleague, Maynard Joseph, had challenged Judge Thomas’ ruling—were openly voicing strong disagreement with the judgment:
“I want to compliment Prime Minister Skerritt,” Green sarcastically declared in a statement, “on his ability and success in hiding the truth from the court. We go to the court for justice. Justice depends on trust and when you hide the truth, it means injustice. This seems to be one of the major weaknesses of our court system…”In contrast, for the well-known senior counsel of the Eastern Caribbean, Dominica’s Anthony Astaphan, who led the court battle for Skerritt and his cabinet colleague, Joseph, it was a “rewarding victory..: and there is much to be learnt from the judge’s ruling”, he remarked in a telephone conversation yesterday.
Coincidentally, Astaphan also happens to be the lead attorney in a current political battle relating to electoral democracy in Antigua and Barbuda where the government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is facing a tough challenge from the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP), now under the leadership of Gaston Browne. In that twin-island Eastern Caribbean state, where allegedly damaging political erosion by the ruling UPP of the Electoral Boundaries Commission and related claims of election rigging have been emerging with increasing frequency, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court handed down a most significant ruling on Monday.The ruling has the effect of preventing Prime Minister Spencer’s government, as well as the Speaker of Parliament and the commission (which is dominated by the ruling UPP), from any action that could result in unilateral and political partisan changes in the existing electoral boundaries for the 15-member House of Representatives.
At the last elections in 2009, the incumbent UPP retained power with a slim 9-7 victory, later to include into its parliamentary fold the single seat secured by the Barbuda People’s Movement.There have since been angry complaints of political interference by the ruling party and government in the functioning of the commission, with the latest development leading to the opposition ALP resorting to the court to challenge unilateral, highly improper and discriminatory changes to existing constituencies.
Contention between the government and opposition reached a climax on Monday when the High Court issued an order prohibiting the Prime Minister, any of his parliamentary representatives and the Speaker from making public a report from the Electoral Boundaries Commission that includes controversial changes to existing constituencies.
According to the ALP’s Browne, who last year replaced former prime minister and long-serving party leader, Lester Bird, the governing UPP’s strategy was to “sneak the flawed” Electoral Boundaries Commission report into Parliament and enact it into law with the consequence of preventing the opposition from seeking redress in the courts. It would seem that the High Court was sufficiently influenced by the strength of the ALP’s petition and it issued an order preventing
the publication of the commission’s report, and fixing a hearing for both parties to appear on March 18.
This latest political controversy in a sharply divided society, coping with spreading social and economic challenges, has emerged against the dilemma the government had to face last year with the introduction of legislation that makes it relatively easy for “foreign investors” to attain citizenship that could also facilitate their unhindered intra-regional travels across other member countries of the Caribbean Community.