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Dominica - Politics

Chronic economic problems were compounded by the severe impact of hurricanes in 1979 and in 1980. By the end of the 1980s, the economy recovered, but weakened again in the 1990s due to a decrease in banana prices. In the 2000s, the economy was hit by a spate of disasters, including the removal of the European preferential trade for bananas, the impact of Hurricane Dean, and the global financial meltdown. Dominica has managed quite well during the current global recession as a smaller percentage of its economy is based on tourism and foreign investment.

The 1961 election victory of the DLP under the leadership of Leblanc ushered in a period in Dominica's history when workers and farmers united in one political movement. This alliance of town and country challenged the descendants of landowners and businessmen residing in the capital and began the vigorous involvement in politics of large numbers of poor, uneducated persons.

At the community level, those who had exercised authority through control of land, shops, credit, and transportation and were associated with the defeated Dominica United People's Party were challenged by small farmers and laborers. At the national level, it was made abundantly clear that the "little people" had acquired political power guaranteed by universal adult suffrage and the presence of a political institution (the DLP) through which to act.

In 1968 the Leblanc government responded to incipient signs of social unrest by pushing a bill through the House of Assembly to curb press criticism of government officials. This act shook the moral imperative of the new social order and resulted in the formation of the Dominican Freedom Party (DFP) under the leadership of Mary Eugenia Charles. Yet despite this act, the DLP's popularity among rural Dominicans enabled it to score an easy victory over the Roseau-based DFP in the 1970 general elections.

In 1974, however, the combined pressures of high unemployment among the island's youth and increasingly aggressive activity by trade unions and opposition political parties led to the resignation of Leblanc as premier and DLP leader and his replacement by deputy premier Patrick John. The new premier capitalized on public concerns over criminal activity by Rastafarians called Dreads in Dominica to gain legislative support for the Prohibited and Unlawful Societies and Associations Act. The so-called Dread Act forbade criminal or civil proceedings against any person who killed or injured a member of an unlawful society or association. John's image as a strong supporter of law and order served the DLP well in the 1975 elections and enabled it to capture sixteen of the twenty-one elective House seats.

Fresh from his election victory, John resorted to a high-handed use of the security forces, and he also proposed punitive legislation aimed again at curbing press freedoms. Following a successful strike by the civil service union in 1977 for increased wages, John attempted to solve the increasing economic problems by signing investment deals with persons later discovered to have very questionable business records. One such deal with a United States businessman involved the creation of a free-trade zone comprising about one-quarter of the island's most productive agricultural land. The deal was scuttled after street demonstrations through-out the island in 1979.

In 1978 the backbone of the economy, the banana industry, was hit by a severe disease that wiped out 30 percent of the cultivated acreage. An inquiry laid the blame on poor management by industry officials known to have very strong ties with the government and the DLP. This led to vigorous demonstrations against the government, inspired this time by the farmers who traditionally had constituted the bulk of the party's supporters. This threat to the power base of the party apparently pushed the John administration to take drastic measures. Bills designed to muzzle trade unions and the press were introduced in the House early in 1979.

Following weeks of public meetings all over the island by opposition forces, some 10,000 demonstrators, including rural and urban dwellers, gathered outside the House on May 29, 1979, the day on which the bills were due to be debated and passed. What began as a peaceful demonstration was soon thrown into tragic confusion by the arrival of Defence Force personnel, who in the ensuing shooting killed one youth and injured several other persons.

This set the stage for Dominica's first recorded removal of an elected government from office by other than electoral means. The country was shut down by an alliance of farmers, workers, private businessmen, and members of opposition political parties and churches, grouped under the banner of the Committee for National Salvation. This situation prevailed for twenty-eight days until the resignation of members of government one by one eroded the constitutional majority required for the prime minister to stay in office. On June 21, John's former agriculture minister, James Oliver Seraphine, became prime minister, and an interim government was constituted from among the representatives of the organizations that had led the uprising.

The interim government, although constitutional, was seen by the major opposition party, the DFP, as transitional. Within weeks of the inauguration of the government, the DFP was calling for general elections. Many contenders emerged in the long and bitter electoral campaign that ensued. They included a faction of the DLP, the DFP, the Dominican Liberation Movement Alliance (DLMAa left-wing party led by young activists and academics), and Seraphine's recently formed Dominica Democratic Labour Party. Accusations that the government had misappropriated relief funds received in the wake of Hurricane David and that it had sold Dominican passports to exiled Iranians seriously damaged the Seraphine campaign.

In July 1980, the DFP, polling 52 percent of the votes, won 17 of the 21 elective parliamentary seats, and Mary Eugenia Charles became the Caribbean's first woman prime minister. The party soon began to make inroads into the traditional rural and working-class base of the DLP. This was accomplished in part by the active mobilization of youth into the party in the late 1970s and the formation of the Young Freedom Movement, which by the late 1980s was an aggressive, well-organized, and evidently well-funded organ of the party.

The DFP also benefited from its control over all electronic media and favorable support from the only newspaper published in the country, the weekly New Chronicle. Control over the radio station was particularly crucial because the station reached practically the entire population. Although it had criticized the John government for exercising control over a publicly owned medium such as the radio, the DFP exercised much the same kind of control. The party, for example, strictly controlled the news and granted the political opposition only limited access to the radio.

In 1981 John was arrested and accused of conspiring to overthrow the Charles government.

The July 1985 parliamentary election was the first to take place in Dominica since the United States-Caribbean military intervention in Grenada OECS chairwoman, Charles, who had emerged as one of the most visible defenders of the intervention, portrayed the election as a choice between democracy and communism. The prime minister charged that the DLP had become communist, and she accused opposition leaders of receiving funds from Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Libya. In an effort to create a new image, the DLP combined with the Dominica Democratic Labour Party and the DLMA to form the Labour Party of Dominica (LPD). Nonetheless, the DFP captured 59 percent of the vote and 15 of the 21 elective House seats. Despite a slightly reduced majority, DFP support remained strong.

The 1990 elections were contested by the incumbent Dominica Freedom Party (DFP), the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), and the United Workers Party (UWP). The DFP won 11 of the 21 parliamentary seats, the UWP 6, and the DLP 4. As a result of a December 20 by-election, the UWP holds seven seats and the DLP three. Prime Minister Charles planned to remain in office until the next general election (due before 1995), but the DFP had already chosen Foreign Minister Brian Alleyne to be Charles' eventual successor as party leader.

In national elections in June, the United Workers Party defeated the incumbent Dominica Freedom Party, taking 11 of 21 seats in Parliament. Five seats are held by the Dominica Labour Party and four by the Dominica Freedom Party. One seat was declared vacant by the courts after the eligibility of a candidate was challenged on the grounds that he was a public employee at the time of this election.

In the January 2000 elections, the Edison James United Workers Party (UWP) was defeated by the Dominican Labour Party (DLP), led by Roosevelt P. "Rosie" Douglas. Douglas died after only a few months in office and was replaced by Pierre Charles, who died in office in January 2004.

Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP, replaced Charles as Prime Minister. Under Prime Minister Skerrit's leadership, the DLP won elections in May 2005 and in December 2009. In 2009, the DLP won 18 of the 21 constituencies, with the UWP collecting 3 seats. The opposition decided to boycott parliament over allegations of campaign improprieties. Due to the absence in parliament of 2 UWP members, the government held by-elections on July 9, 2010 with both seats won by the UWP.

2014 Elections

In the December 2014 parliamentary elections, the ruling Dominica Labor Party won 15 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the United Workers Party, which won six seats. Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States election observers declared the election generally fair and transparent. Observers praised the use of translucent ballot boxes for the first time but noted concerns about the voter list, on which the number of registered voters exceeded the countrys population.

In an address to the nation on 08 February 2017, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the police had intelligence on the plan to storm the Financial Center and overthrow the government from members of the United Workers Party (UWP) and the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) who were not satisfied with the militant mood of their leaders. He said the plan included stalling a truck in front the Financial Center, storming the building and occupying it until demands are met. In a radio and television broadcast following disturbances in the city that resulted in fires being set and business looted, Skerrit said that the leadership of the UWP and the Dominica Freedom party (DFP) had to take the blame for the situation. Opposition Leader Lennox Linton denied any involvement in a plot to overthrow the Dominica government and says he fears he could be arrested on trumped up charges to that effect.

Opposition demonstrators demanded the resignation of Roosevelt for alleged fraud. Throughout protests, they have thrown stones and bottles, broken shop windows and sacked businesses. Some have also blocked roads and started small fires in the streets.

2019 Elections

The upcoming polls in Dominica constitutionally due in 2019 are expected to capture the worlds attention. Prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit Dominica Labour Party government, which had been in office since 2000 had been accused by the opposition United Workers Party of gross election breaches including the bribery of voters and wholescale importation of voters, some illegal, from overseas to vote in marginal constituencies.

By 2018, with elections less than two years away, all calls for cleansing of the bloated voters lists, which had more registered voters than the countrys population had so far gone unheeded. CARICOM countries including Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines when faced with similarly bloated voters list all made the decision to have the list cleansed through voter reregistration.

It will be interesting to see whether CARICOM, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Commonwealth grouping will continue to remain silent in the face of Skerrits continuing abuse of the electoral process in Dominica.

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