Friday’s vote is a key one for the small island which has been a longtime peaceful and community-oriented country.
As Dominica’s general elections will be held on Friday, some 70,000 people are expected to head to the polls to determine the country’s next 21 members of the House of Assembly, as well as the nine senators, in a process that is highly anticipated.
The Caribbean island’s constitution states that the president is elected by the House of Assembly, and the prime minister is then appointed by the president. Both serve a five-year term.
Friday’s vote is a key one for the small island which has been a longtime peaceful and community-oriented country, ruled since 2004 by a progressive government.
The 16-year rule of the country’s main party Dominica Labour Party (DLP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is facing as its main contender, the conservative United Workers’ Party (UWP) whose leader is Lennox Linton.
The election’s two main candidates
Skerrit, 47, was first sworn into office in January 2004. Aged 31 at the time, he was the world’s youngest premier when he took office, leading a two-party coalition government.
In the 2009 General Election, he won a second majority in the assembly, strengthening his Party’s share to 18 of 21 seats, and was appointed by the president as the head of government for a second term.
In 2014 elections, Skerrit and his DLP won a third consecutive majority, securing 15 seats. In December of that same year, he was nominated by the president as prime minister for the third time.
As the head of government during three terms, Skerrit has graduated to the forefront of Caribbean leadership, serving as Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in a period of historic fiscal and economic challenges faced by the region and the world, including debt, unemployment, low growth, and deficits.
Under his leadership Dominica also increased its international alliances, joining in 2008 the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (from 2009, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), conceived by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Often described as one of the most dynamic prime ministers that the island has ever had, Skerrit led the nation through two devastating disasters: Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and Hurricane Maria in 2017, and rebuilt the country with the aim of transforming it into a climate-resilient nation.
Dominicans in their great majority consider the government’s work for recovery, especially after Hurricane Maria, as “exemplary” according to political consultant and director at Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) Peter Wickham.
A large part of the recovery work consisted of building new homes in vulnerable areas, the rehabilitation of agriculture and businesses, the reconstruction of bridges and other infrastructure, as well as urban renewal with the aim of climate adaptability.
Since the DLP came into power, the party’s policies consisted of investing in social programs including free education, free transportation to schools for children, free medicine and healthcare for minors and seniors, as well as pensions for the latter.
Skerrit’s party’s main opponent for these elections is the current leader of the UWP opposition party.
Linton, a former announcer and news reporter who served in a number of news media positions both locally and overseas after studying in the United States, is mostly known by Dominicans as the creator and host of a popular talk show called Between You and Me.
“On this program for over five years, I educated the public on a number of matters involving the economy, the Constitution, the rule of law and the good governance of Dominica,” Linton says proudly when presenting his background.
Supported by the United States and the Organization of the American States (OAS), he is also a member of the country’s business elite as he was the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce president, as well as a former corporate executive.
Linton was elected at the head of UWP in 2013. He has since been an outspoken critic of the government, accusing the DLP of implementing “policies that succeed in fostering dependence on the government and thwarting the economic growth that would allow people to create, innovate and thrive in their country.”
An election poll released at the end of November by Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) showed that a larger percentage of those polled have committed to vote for the DLP.
Yet, Linton has been accusing the government of electoral fraud, even though he has not presented evidence for his allegations.
He has threatened to stop the elections using violence when the High Court of Justice has rejected an injunction to stop the upcoming elections and to repeat the recent Bolivia regime change experience in his own country.
The UWP has been pushing Skerrit to enact electoral reforms in a bid to gain a better electoral advantage. However, it is not the only sector behind the call for reform.
The first group to officially bring the demands for electoral reforms was the Concerned Citizen Movement (CCM), a group created near the end of 2018, which would convoke mobilizations in the streets demanding “free elections.”
The CCM president Loftus Durand later revealed that his group was meeting with "high-ranking U.S. officials," without naming any.
Then the group morphed into the Committee for Electoral Reform (CER). It is currently comprised by the country's most conservative sectors, which include Dominica’s Christian Council (DCC), Dominica Business Forum (DBF), the Waterfront and Allied Workers' Union (WAWU), the Dominican Bar Association, the Dominican Public Service Union and Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC).