On Thursday 19th May 2016,” said the prime minister this week in his address to the nation, “prior to my announcement of the date for the general elections on national television, the Office of the Governor General was advised of the date for nominations and general elections. The writs for the general election should have been signed on that day but were held up to await the list of returning officers from the Electoral Commission.
“The list was only made available in the afternoon of the next day, allowing publication in the Gazette but not in a newspaper by way of extraordinary publication because by then most newspapers had closed for the day. This resulted in the first publication in a newspaper becoming available on the morning of Saturday 21 May 2016. That publication date meant that if the original nomination date of Friday 27th May 2016 had been kept candidates may not have had the seven days prior to Nomination Day.
“Consequently it became necessary for the Governor General to send to the Chief Elections Officer amending [sic] writs to correct the date for Nomination Day.”
The prime minister underscored that “the law permits the date for Nomination Day to be changed. But . . . the law does not permit or allow a change of the date for the general elections except in specific and restricted cases of emergencies. Therefore in the circumstances Saturday 28 May 2016 became the only fair and available date to hold nominations and Her Excellency the Governor General issued the amending writs accordingly. I recognize that Saturday 28 May 2016 is a day of religious worship for many in our society. Indeed, Fridays and Sundays are also religious days of worship for some.”
Additionally: “I am mindful that a particular day of worship may be difficult for some candidates. However, I am also mindful of the fact that the law allows a candidate’s agents to nominate him or her in their absence . . .”
On Thursday’s TALK much of the discourse centered on the prime minister record-short national address. Many callers were of the view that in the rush to call elections when the prime minister imagined the neither REDy nor ready opposition would be caught with its yellow pants down, he had neglected to ensure all was in place for his announcement.
It also seemed to many that rather than admit he had not satisfied himself all was in order before making public his announcement of the election date, the prime minister had sought to lay blame on the governor general and on the electoral office. At least one caller laid the screw-up squarely on the electoral office, although he did acknowledge the prime minister’s duty to satisfy himself that all procedures were go before his all-important announcement. After all, the buck stopped at the prime minister’s desk.
Another called revealed that the governor general had been off island and returned mid-week to Saint Lucia. Still another viewer confirmed he had traveled from Canada aboard the same aircraft with Dame Pearlette, at the same time she was supposed to have been dealing with election writs. As usual, there has been no word in her own defense from the GG. As for the prime minister, not a word, not a word, not a word.
Still the questions swirl: did the PM mislead Saint Lucians on the eve of another election? Was he responsible for the confusion-causing screw-up? Was the cause his apparent haste in going to the polls at a time that appeared to promise his party a distinct advantage?
For the record: Dame Pearlette Louisy was on official business in Toronto, Canada from May 12 until late Thursday afternoon May 19. Her Westjet carrier landed at Hewanorra around 2.45 pm. A few hours after she returned to Government House she, like the rest of Saint Lucia, heard the prime minister announce on TV the day of elections.
Dame Pearlette was accompanied on her trip by Winhall Joshua, Mayor of Vieux Fort. Also Gypsy, Barbara Cadet, Derede Williams and Morgie who entertained at an event to benefit Sick Kids. Over 250 people attended the gala.
As we go to press some have been challenging the prime minister’s interpretation of the law governing Nomination Day procedures, including whether the Elections Act “provides authority for the nomination of a candidate who may be unable to attend because of his/her Sabbath to be nominated in his/her absence by his/her duly authorized representative or agents.”
In his televised address to the nation this week, the prime minister said: “In any event I wish to place on record my apologies for any difficulties or any inconvenience that this unavoidable change may cause and trust that all will go well on Nomination Day so that we can proceed to elect the new Government of Saint Lucia on the 6th June 2016.”