Telltale signs that Democracy is being eroded - Lessons for Dominicans

 "In a democracy, the individual enjoys not only the ultimate power but carries the ultimate responsibility" Norman Cousins

Over the past 30-40 years or so, the world has experienced the emergence of an increasing number of governing administrations who refuse to relinquish power. They employ nefarious and illegitimate means to ensure they maintain their grip.  Why do so-called democratic governments feel the urge to stay in power at all cost? More specifically, why is this phenomenon more common in 'Young Democracies? We see this throughout the globe where Prime Ministers, Presidents or entire Political Parties refuse to relinquish Executive power and will do whatever it takes to maintain their vice. From Burundi to Burkina Faso, Venezuela to Azerbaijan we have been witnessing the decay of Democracy.

Rogue Behavior

While these are diverse jurisdictions with varied reasons for democratic stress, there are some common features contributing to democratic decline in these countries. Some of these will be explored below.
In a Democracy, ultimate power is derived from those being governed and, in the ideal setting, the direction of a country should be determined by the majority. However, the outcome of democratic rule is highly dependent on the system under which democracy functions. Herein lies one of the most important features that underlie the root of 'democratic failure' in young democracies. Many of these countries operate under a Parliamentary System in which there is insufficient limits placed on Executive Power and overreach. Hence, it is no coincidence that many despots arise from Democracies, in which the lack of check and balances or failure to execute those that are constitutionally available, renders these countries vulnerable to abuse of power. The first step to protecting democracy is for the people to ensure that, at all cost, the Executive Body obeys the constitution and laws of their country.
Laws should never be changed just because the Executive thinks such laws are inconvenient.  For example, in Dominica a key control on misbehavior in public office, the Integrity in Public Office Act, was gutted and replaced by a useless Act that protects the crookedness of the current regime. The Prime Minister, President and several cabinet figures were investigated by the IPO commission. Indeed, the President was taken to the court for failure to file his declaration with the IPO. The court claimed that those challenges could wait till his term expires; in other words, the President is above the law. In the interim, the Labor Party Administration used their majority to change the IPO Act. All existing investigations were nullified allowing the President (Charles Savarin) and Prime Minister (Roosevelt Skerrit) to breathe a 'sigh of relief'.

Failure of the Courts

This brings us to the second, important feature of a failing Democratic System, failure of the Court to rein in Executive Power. In this regard, we have seen this in Dominica. Members of the current executive have been challenged in the courts for varied reasons including eligibility to run for office in parliamentary election, legitimacy of the former President given the way he was appointed and, 'Treating' during 2014 Parliamentary Elections.  Unfortunately, in the first 2 instances, the Eastern Caribbean Court failed the people. Roosevelt Skerrit who had dual French and Dominican Citizenship at the time of his nomination and was ineligible to run in 2009 election was allowed remain in office despite violating the law and constitution on citizenship requirement for eligibility to stand for elections. 
In another instance, the 7th President (Eliud Williams) was allowed to continue as President despite the manner in which he was nominated and eventually elected. Disappointingly, the appeal was heard after the President had already left office. Due to blatant failure of a gutless Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, citing the courts lack of jurisdiction in 'meddling in the matter of election of a President', the Labor Administration had cover to circumvent constitutionally mandated procedures in the nomination of Dominica's 8th and current President (Charles Savarin).
With respect to the matter of  'Treating' during the 2014 General Elections in Dominica, the court appears to be sitting on its hands as if waiting for a 'signal'.  Interestingly, the current Administration is attempting to introduce a Bill aimed at legitimizing 'Cheating and Treating' during elections so that the current case will be nullified. In order words, this blatant abuse of power coupled with a weak Court System promotes constant erosion of Democracy. The lesson from these scenarios seems to be that local and regional courts have been corrupted by structural factors, that is, the dependence of Judges on the Ruling Administration and the chumminess between the courts and legal representatives of the Executive.  Remedies are needed to address this weakness and mitigate the slide to democratic oblivion.

Creation of Poverty and Dependency

Another key factor that supports democratic decay is existence of widespread poverty or creation of such where it did not previously exist. This renders segments of the population dependent on government and, any pittance received from government becomes an improvement in their lives and well being. Zimbabwe is a leading example of this unfortunate situation.  In the case of Dominica, we are currently witnessing this phenomenon where swaths of the population are becoming increasingly dependent on central government for housing, school supplies, groceries and many other daily needs. The Executive in turn has gained increasing influence over those receiving these handouts and view any effort to challenge this mismanagement of public finance as an affront to poor people. With this newly expanded Executive Power, the tendency is to do as they please! What happened? Most Dominicans were previously capable of taking care of their day-to-day needs. Over the past 15 years or so, the Labor Party Administration has destroyed the environment that permits independent existence and, actively promoted dependence on central government, with such vehicles as the 'Red Clinic', Ministry of Constituency Empowerment, 'Yes We Care' Senior Support Program and Small Business Initiatives. Rather than creating an environment to foster independence, the Labor Party Administration has aggressively pursued a policy that promotes dependency to maintain political power. Persons who are dependent on handouts from a Ruling Political Party are less likely to challenge their violations of the Law and, in fact, are apt to support and defend this misbehavior. This approach worked for a period in Venezuela but, as we now know, it is not sustainable. It will eventually disintegrate under its own weight.

Progression to Unconstrained Executive Power

The above factors all contribute to the establishment of an Unconstrained Governing Executive that functions without consideration for the will of the governed. Without appropriate scrutiny and counterbalance, Dominica is headed in the direction of a failing Democracy. Those versed in the running of government, the laws and constitution of Dominica must endeavor to educate the populace so that informed decisions can be made about the direction of their country. Likewise, informed refusal to accept the Current Administration's efforts to manipulate the country's Electoral Laws and violate Dominica’s constitution for political advantage is critical. If these breaches are allowed to continue, in contravention of the country's Laws and Constitution, Dominica will be at risk for deterioration into a democratic mess. 

Remedies

Constitutional constraints on Executives power exist for a reason - to protect the governed from the tyranny of the Executive. Degradation of these constraints is an obligate step to democratic demise and development of dictatorship. The erosion of Democracy in Dominica is not unique.  This is an ongoing problem in several countries including Zimbabwe, Burundi and Venezuela, just to name a few.  Some of these countries maintain the outward appearance of a democracy through elections. However, they lack the institutions that enable the functioning of a Democracy.  In Dominica, even though some of these institutions still exist, they are almost dysfunctional. For instance, the IPO has been gutted while efforts are on the way to erode others. The Courts should serve as a check but have allowed themselves to be dominated by the Executive, who are hell-bent on changing the Country’s laws like the bye laws of a Boys Scout Organization.
The electoral process and elections serve as a firewall between Democracy and Tyranny. It allows the populace to throw out bad administrations with their vote.  So, it is imperative that those with the energy and capacity continue to resist the governing Labor Party Administration’s efforts to dismantle this protection. Should these efforts to erode choice succeed, voting will no longer matter. The people will not have the ability to vote for the government they want. Some constituents may feel that they are left with no other choice but to resort to drastic measures, as we witnessed in Burkina Faso in 2014, when attempts were made by the Parliament to permit President Compaore to stand for re-election in contravention of the country's constitutionally mandated term-limits.  Dominicans can avoid this desperation and, ensuing destruction, by taking steps to resist this Labor Administration attempts to change Electoral Laws for the purpose of remaining in power for life. Remember the simple saying:  'Opportunity lost can never be regained'.


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