With general elections due within a matter of weeks, the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has expressed fears about the process being genuinely free and fair.
Deputy Political Leader of Congress, Joseph Andall has accused some elements within the the hierarchy of the ruling New National Party (NNP) of trying to manipulate the voting process in an effort to secure another term in office for the Keith Mitchell-led administration. Andall made the accusation in a recent interview with THE NEW TODAY, in light of recent statements made by Prime Minister Mitchell to the effect that one has to be foolish to be in government and in control of “the electoral process and yet not even be able to win a seat.”
He charged that there have been several attempts at voter manipulation and voter padding, particularly in the St. Patrick West constituency in which he is seeking to dethrone the incumbent, Youth & Sports Minister, Anthony Boatswain.
“I have very strong evidence that attempts are being made by people very high up in the NNP hierarchy of St. Patrick West, to register (in that constituency) people from outside of the constituency”, he said.
“…I met two young men from Resource, St. Mark, aged eighteen (and) nineteen – they are brothers and they mentioned specifically, the name of a businesswoman in St. Patrick West, who is known to be an activist of the New National Party, trying to induce them to register to vote in St. Patrick West,” he added.
The NDC No.2 leader also spoke of another incident involving a young lady from the village of Morne Fendue, who is registered to vote in the PO4 area of the constituency.
According to Andall, the lady informed him that she approached a very senior member of the NNP apparatus in St. Patrick West for housing assistance and was told that she would have to switch her registration to vote in St. Patrick West in order to get the assistance.
“I have her registration number and her name but for confidentiality purposes I won’t release it at the moment, but she was told by that person that in order to get the assistance she would have to switch to register in St. Patrick West.
“I know of another case where a young woman (who was registered to vote in St. Patrick East) and was made to switch her registration from St. Patrick East to St. Patrick West in exchange for a government job.
Andall also alluded to the sweeping personnel changes made in the Electoral Office within the past year by Governor-General Dame Cecile La Grenade which was met by a huge national uproar.
He said: “We know that over the past year or so, most of the senior positions in the Parliamentary Elections Office, the people holding those positions were terminated (and) the reason given by (Health) Minister Nickolas Steele was that some of them did not reside in the constituencies where they were assigned to, while others have passed the age.
“However, in spite of Steele’s statement, we know that people under the age of 60 were fired or removed and people in some cases over the age of 70 were retained and in fact even brought in as fresh people in the electoral office”, he added.
The senior NDC executive member queried the age for serving or retirement from the Parliamentary Elections Office as this is not clear.
Andall noted that “persons who have worked traditionally at the different polling stations whenever general elections are being held have not been retained and are being replaced by known NNP party activists.”
This, he said, raises “the question of whether or not we are going to have a free and fair election coming up…”.
“…We have to be very, very, watchful and we are calling on other political parties and Civil Society, our Caribbean partners and the international community to do whatever possible to ensure that democratic practices are observed in Grenada.
“We cannot afford to have the will of the people subverted by the party in control at this point in time…we need to be proactive, vigilant and it has to be something that should fall not only for the National Democratic Congress but for all who would like to see democracy prosper in our country.”
Andall called for the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) to play an impartial role and ensure that no underhand dealings occur that would affect the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.
“We also need for the PEO to reassure the public that claims being made by the NNP operatives on the ground that the NNP would know who people vote for”, he remarked.
“We would like them to clarify that once and for all because that is having a very chilling effect. I am meeting people who are expressing fear of voting because NNP people are telling them if they don’t vote for them they will know,” he said.
Andall went on: “The Electoral Office has a responsibility to reassure the public that the ballots are indeed secret and that the voting process is secure, fair and free”.
In an interview with THE NEW TODAY last week, Voter and Civic Officer at the Electoral Office, Ferdinand Phillip gave assurance that “all ballots cast on election day will be secret and that “it is impossible for anyone to know who someone voted for…”.
“That is really impossible. Once the ballot is dropped in the box, there is no way that an election official, a candidate or an agent to be able to identify for whom an elector would have voter for,” he said.
Phillip also pointed out that persons are always encouraged to use a mark preferably a check/tick or an X, to indicate their choice, when casting their votes.
“Let me assure everyone concerned that the officers, (including recent appointees), have been performing admirably and we are ready for when the election is called,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell hinted at a public meeting of NNP in Gouyave on Sunday night that he could announce the date for the poll on January 28 at a massive rally planned for Beausejour in his St. George North-west constituency.
Political observers are now looking at an election date sometime between February 23 and the first week in March.
The NNP has been predicting another clean sweep of all 15 seats as it did in the last election in 2013 and prior in 1999.