As had been announced earlier, elections held in Dominica last week resulted in the retention of the country’s government by the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), led by outgoing Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. The DLP which held 15, against the United Workers Party’s (UWP) 6, of the country’s 21-seat Parliament had a reduced majority, having won 18 of the parliamentary seats in the elections of 2009.
In his first comment on the election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit indicated a certain disappointment with seats lost, particularly two of the three seats in the wider Roseau area which houses the capital city, the party having held all three seats in the previous Parliament.
Certainly, Prime Minister Skerrit must feel that the psychological comfort which a party obtains from dominating the capital is now negated, as suggested in his berating of the losers for not spending sufficient time in their respective constituencies, as against the performance of ministerial duties. Nevertheless it must be the case that the resources available to the government in recent years have not been as generous, given the generally difficult economic climate which the country, like many others, has experienced in the last five years.
The overall dominance which Skerrit and Dominica Labour Party has held in the country therefore remains, this being Prime Minister Skerrit’s third victory since he ascended to leadership of his party in 2004, following the death, in 2004, of Prime Minister Pierre Charles. Charles had himself succeeded deceased (2000) Rosie Douglas who had pulled victory from the SLP after the long reign of the iconic Eugenia Charles and her Freedom Party, and then the five year stint of the UWP under Edison James.
It seems to be the case that Skerrit has, over the years, surprised the electorate with a certain radicalism of his policies, particularly in external relations, since he took over the leadership of the DLP at the relatively early age of 31. In recent years, and certainly after the dour anti-communist orientation of Eugenia Charles, he has diversified these relations in an effort to give a substantial push to the development of the physical infrastructure of Dominica, and in particular its road system.
A central objective of Skerrit has been, not unlike previous leaders, to make the country attractive for tourism, and in that regard, move from Ms Charles’ heavy reliance on the United Kingdom, France and the European Union (Dominica being situated between the French territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe), and on the United States in the post-Grenada invasion era, to look towards Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela, taking advantage, in particular of the then President’s ALBA initiative. And in turn, this has led to a wider set of relationships with other Third World countries, and support for non-alignment policies in forums like the United Nations.
The UWP opposition which, in effect, replaced Eugenia Charles’ Freedom Party, has largely followed the Freedom’s external relations stance, and has been critical of the DLP for an over- dependence on what it believes to be the government’s support of policies unsympathetic to the Western world, including the policies of Venezuela whose regime the UWP believes likely to be short-lived, given the domestic opposition to President Maduro.
It is unlikely that Skerrit will listen to the pleas of his opposition, given the difficulties which Dominica, like other OECS countries, has been experiencing since the advent of the WTO Agreement and the end of the regime that permitted unencumbered tariff access for the country’s main export, bananas, to the European Union market, and in particular, Britain.
His policy of what might be called foreign relations and aid diversification is now largely supported by colleague governments in the Organsation of Eastern Caribbean States in particular, including the Windward Islands (along with which Dominica exported its bananas), but also a country like Antigua and Barbuda. For that country, although not a banana producer but largely dependent on tourism, had sought to diversify its external economic activities by venturing into the sphere of internet gaming, a fascination largely attractive to American citizens.
Antigua’s experience of harsh opposition on the part of the United States government to accepting a WTO decision on this matter, has drawn sympathy to Dominica’s aid diversification policies, in spite of the fact that Antigua has, in its external relations policies, been more prone to follow Western leads, and not inclined to what some deem to be experimentation with countries of the non-aligned and non-western arenas.
It is likely that Skerrit’s orientation will continue; other OECS governments of similar social democratic orientation, having been inclined to move in that direction in recent times. There has, of course, been a fairly long tradition of political support, and support in election campaigns, by the social democratic or Labour parties for each other, in the Windward Islands of the OECS; and some countries, like St Vincent under Dr Ralph Gonsalves’s Unity Labour Party administration, and St Lucia under Dr Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party administration, have already leaned towards assistance from Venezuela.
The Dominica United Workers Party will no doubt be encouraged by its gains vis-à-vis the DLP, particularly as its leader, Lennox Linton, has entered the Dominica House of Assembly for the first time, following the aggressive campaign which he pursued. His party now has six, instead of the three, seats which it had in the last parliament, and he is, no doubt, encouraged by this. And he will be bolstered in this too, by the fact that as against the just over 34% of the vote that his party achieved in 2009, it achieved nearly 43% last week.
So it can be expected that the Dominica opposition is also likely to take a more aggressive stance within the wider frameworks of Caricom and the OECS in exposing its critique of Prime Minister Skerrit’s future policies.