FRANKLY SPEAKING: Free and fair elections?
The 2013 General Election will stand out in history for several reasons: the margin of victory; the Government getting its choice for leadership of the Opposition; but more particularly, these elections will go down in infamy because of the numerous allegations of vote buying.
Unfortunately, those allegations do not reside in the realm of sour grapes on the part of the Opposition, since no lesser persons than the Prime Minister and Attorney General have acknowledged that there were instances of vote buying.
The Prime Minister, in his victory speech, was seen and heard on television saying he had witnessed the act. He then vowed that he would review the relevant laws. I have heard his promise to review the legislation but I fail to be moved by the righteous indignation that he allowed to escape his lips.
Mr Freundel Stuart is a seasoned politician and I doubt that this would have been the first time he heard about allegations of this nature. And since he is a senior lawyer, I would expect that he would be aware of the laws pertaining to elections.
I am therefore surprised that the Prime Minister would opt for a review of the existing laws without first seeking to enforce the ones we have. If they were found to be deficient to deal with the problem, then and only then would a review become necessary.
The major problem with our election laws is not a lack of appropriate legislation; rather, it is the lack of enforcement. Then again, the Prime Minister said he would have seen vote buying, but I have not heard that he reported this corrupt practice to the police.
The electoral laws of Barbados set out an elaborate code which has left nothing to chance, but as we have seen in this campaign, some of these laws were observed mainly in the breach by both political parties. Section 6 of the Election Offences And Controversies Act makes it an offence for any person to pay or accept money to vote or refrain from voting. Additionally, it is an offence for a person to advance the money that would be expended in bribery at any election.
At this stage, it would be interesting to find out the source of the funds used in the campaign. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) disclosed that it raised its funding through self-help efforts such as cake sales, while the Dems admitted that they received small donations from members and well-wishers. In the case of the BLP, they have not admitted receiving funds from external sources.
On the other hand, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) candidates would now be required to disclose the amounts and the names of the donors on their “Return and Declarations as to Election Expenses” forms.
Section 52 (3) of the Representation Of The People Act provides that the return shall also contain in respect of that candidate: a statement of all moneys, securities and equivalent of money received by the election agent from the candidate or any other person for the purposes of election expenses incurred or to be incurred, with a statement of the name of every person from whom they were received.
Our election laws have been designed to ensure that anyone with the ability, who qualifies, would have a realistic chance to be elected to the House of Assembly, not just those who have access to large sums of money. That is why the Representation Of The People Act restricts the amount a candidate can spend on his election to a maximum of $10 in respect of each registered elector in the constituency.
Some have argued that it would be extremely difficult to obtain a conviction for vote buying, since both the payer and payee would be guilty of an offence. However, the breaches of the electoral laws were not restricted to that activity alone.
Both political parties handed out hundreds of T-shirts and other election paraphernalia, contrary to Section 10A of the Election Offences And Controversies Act.
Section 18 of the same act makes it an offence, punishable by a fine of $500 for each breach, for people to print, publish or distribute posters or other election related advertising material, unless the name and address of the printer and publisher appears on the face of the poster or advertising material. None of the DLP’s election material carried the notation.
Also, Section 47 (1) of the Representation Of The People Act states: No expenses may, with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election, be incurred by any person other than the candidate, his election agent and persons authorised in writing by the election agent on account of –
(a) holding public meetings or organising any public display; or
(b) issuing advertisements, circulars or publications; or
(c) subject to subsection (2), otherwise presenting to the electors the candidate or his views or the extent or nature of his backing or disparaging another candidate.
I could go on, but I have presented enough information to demonstrate that the Barbadian concept of a free and fair election is one in which the authorities neglect or refuse to deal with wrongdoing.