The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is pointing fingers at Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, blaming him for the failure of the November 24 Referendum, due to what the party described as his “lack of vision and failure to achieve national consensus” on the first time event in Grenadian history.
“The failure of the Referendum does not come as a surprise (but) confirms the fears and concerns we had about the process from the very beginning,” NDC Political Leader, Senator Nazim Burke told reporters at a special press conference held at NDC headquarters last week Friday to address the issue.
Out of the 71, 241 eligible voters registered in the country, only 22, 000 turned out at the polls.
This represented 32% of the voting population at last week Thursday’s historic Referendum poll, which returned a majority “no vote” on all seven bills.
According to the NDC Political Leader, the record low voter turnout “confirms a lack of interest and awareness of the people towards this process” and suggested that “the most fundamental reason for the failure of this process is that the Prime Minister could not see the visionary path to achieving constitutional reform.”
The NDC Political Leader argued that “the Prime Minister, as the leader of government had the first opportunity to make this (the Referendum) happen on the basis of national consensus”.
“He (Dr. Mitchell) did not have the vision (or) understand and appreciate that the success of this process was going to depend on whether or not he can achieve national consensus on the big issues…”, he said.
“…We should have gone into this referendum feeling a sense of national pride and accomplishment…there is no doubt that the process was politicised,” he added.
Sen. Burke accused PM Mitchell of vacillating on the seven bills that were presented to the voters.
“The Prime Minister’s position on (the seven) bills changed depending on what position he thought would bring him and his political party greatest favour”, he said.
The Congress leader charged that instead of approaching the Constitution Reform as a genuine national issue free of partisan politics, the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration “played hide and seek with the process”.
“First, he (PM Mitchell) called on the people to vote with their conscience and free will on these matters then he changed his mind and he and his party were calling for a yes vote on all issues. Finally, he suggested that only three of the bills were worthy of consideration,” Sen. Burke recalled.
The seven Referendum bills included one that changes the name of the State from ‘Grenada’ to ‘Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique’ while the others sought to institute term limits for the Prime Minister; ensure that there is always an Opposition Leader; enable Parliament to provide fixed dates for general elections; institute an Elections and Boundaries Commission; and to allow for the replacement of the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the island’s final court.
Prime Minister Mitchell, who was among the first to cast ballots at the Happy Hill Primary School polling station in his St George’s Northwest constituency, had hours before the poll, publicly endorsed and encouraged support for the bills proposed to change the name of State, CCJ, and the establishment of an Election and Boundaries Commission.
Sen. Burke pointed out that Dr. Mitchell “rejected the bills dealing with controlling or limiting the power of the Prime Minister and limiting the chances of abuse of authority by the Prime Minister.
“These three bills are related to institutions,” he said, adding that the Grenadian leader preferred to endorse only those pertaining to “institutions.”
“He (Mitchell) did not support and was not prepared to give his endorsement to fixing the date for general elections, limiting the term of office for the Prime Minister, (or) for a fixed date for elections. In other words, the things that would have contained aggressive, high-handed, arrogant behaviour and abusive authority, he was not prepared to stand on the side of those,” said Sen. Burke.
The NDC Political Leader felt that many persons would have persons would have taken their cue from Dr. Mitchell’s call in giving support to the three named bills and that as leader of the country, PM Mitchell “should never had made such a call”.
“It is divisive, confusing and it misled the nation…the decision by PM Mitchell and members of the Cabinet to openly and unabashedly call for support for only three of the seven bills sponsored by his government, sent an unambiguous and inescapable signal to the electorate that (leaving the remaining four to anguish (they) were only prepared to morally and psychologically invest in three of the seven bills,” he said.
THE NEW TODAY caught up with some voters on Referendum day, who shared their experience in the historic event.
A 20-year-old resident of Grand Bras, St Andrew, Shakim Fortune expressed happiness to be able to vote for the very first time.
However, he said, “To be honest, I was just a bit confused at the (voting) table…I don’t think I was informed enough so it was very confusing. It was very tough to make a decision but in the end I came to what I think are some very smart decisions of what I think is best for our country for the youth and the future of Grenada.”
Another individual, who did not participate in the poll, expressed the view that “they (government) should have cancelled the Referendum…to educate people more on what they are doing.
“I think the referendum would fail because they did not educate people properly,” he remarked.
Another man who appeared to be over 50 years old told this newspaper that he “voted conscience wise,” because he “really wanted to support the referendum and on the whole, my country.”
However, he was quick to add “that it (the Referendum) isn’t relevant or in the favour of our people right now.”
The individual told this newspaper that he “voted a resounding no on all seven of the bills,” holds the view that “we were not given enough time to really study them (the bills),” pointing out that, “the Rights and Freedom Bill (in particular), is very long (32 clauses).”
He said, he voted in the interest of his country because he felt that his “vote could make a big difference.”
There were some positive words coming from a female voter, who spoke with this newspaper after casting her ballot at the Grand Bras Health Centre in St. Andrew.
She said, “The process was rather simple and easy (because) there were enough people there leading and guiding you as to what to do”.
“I think it is important because this is historic for Grenadians and I think we need to take the Constitution and everything seriously and that is why I really voted because I figured that I will be part of history,’ she added.
The Grand Bras resident stressed that her vote was also “for the next generation because what we decide now is going to affect them and their children to come”.
“So I think it is very important for us to do our civic duty,” she added.
An 83 year-old man was also among those who cast a ballot on Referendum day.
Speaking with this newspaper, he said, although he “does not fully understand the bills,” he voted “as everyone is supposed to (vote) more or less.”
A total of 4398 persons including police officers make up the voting list between the 22 polling stations in the constituency of St. Andrew South-west.
A total of 463 persons were registered to vote at the Grand Bras Health Centre.
However, according to a preliminary figure obtained from the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), only 190 persons did cast their ballots.
The St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic School was also used as a polling station in the constituency, with 416 persons registered and approximately 125 voting on the bills.
Meanwhile, a total of 4093 persons have registered to vote between the 18 polling stations in the constituency of St. Andrew South-east.
This newspaper visited two polling stations in that constituency, the St. Andrew’s Anglican Secondary School (SAASS), where 1014 persons were registered with 320 participating in the Referendum poll; while 181 registered to vote at the Crochu Skills Training Centre, but only 56 exercised their voting rights.