Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell on Tuesday night said he was disappointed at the results of a referendum that would have allowed Grenada to join the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the island’s final appellate court.
Earlier in the day, Grenadians voted for a second time within a two year period, to reject efforts to replace the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ as the highest court.
In a national referendum on Tuesday, the preliminary figures released by the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) show that the “No’ vote secured 12,133 as compared to 9,846 for those supporting the CCJ that was established in 2001.
Supervisor of Elections, Alex Phillip, said that 22,098 or 28 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum. Of that number, there were 119 rejected ballots, 9846 for the approval and 12133 voted against the approval.
In terms of percentage, he explained that 45.05 per cent voted for the change and 54.39 per cent against the change.
The CCJ also functions as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement, CARICOM.
PM Mitchell who voted early in his St. George North-west constituency had earlier hinted that he was optimistic about victory since he was actively campaigning for CCJ unlike 2016 when he stood on the sidelines.
“The people have voted based on what they wished to see. As a serious Democrat it (result) has been accepted. I am not happy with it but that has always been my position when results of elections are given”, he said.
“I am disappointed but I am in total acceptance of the results,” he added.
Immediately after casting his ballot on Tuesday, an optimistic Dr. Mitchell said he was confident of receiving the necessary two-thirds majority of the votes cast in getting Grenada to join Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana as the CARICOM countries that are full members of the CCJ.
But he said he would not as Prime Minister be initiating a third referendum on the CCJ.
In 2016, Grenadians voted overwhelmingly to reject seven pieces of legislation, including that of the CCJ, which would have reformed the constitution the island received when it attained political independence from Britain 42 years ago.
They voted by a margin of 9,492 in favour with 12,434 against.
Tuesday’s referendum result has put a damper on the legacy of PM Mitchell who has an impressive record of five victories in national elections as leader of the New National Party (1995, 1999, 2003, 2013 and 2018)
Dr. Mitchell has now suffered four losses at the polls – two national elections in 1990 and 2008 and two in Referenda held in 2016 and 2018.
The Prime Minister sought to lay blame on the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) for the failure of the CCJ in Tuesday’s voting.
He said: “I have said before…if this thing does not work then the opposition doesn’t have anything to celebrate. They may have a lot of questions to answer. That is my own personal position.
“History will also record who took what position when something of absolutely crucial to the life of the people of the country was in fact initiated and who did what.
“I am very clear in my conscience that I did the right thing that I firmly believe the CCJ is in fact the court that should be dealing with our final judicial system in the region and I have no doubt that history will prove me right”.
Dr. Mitchell said the opposition had engaged in “cheap propaganda” and had been able to confuse the voters ahead of the poll.
Congress, which initially had supported the move to replace the Privy Council, urged the population to vote “no” on Tuesday with the party’s interim leader, Joseph Andall, saying that the new position was taken because members were not satisfied with the process.
“For example, two of the persons who were involved in drafting the Bill are members of the Advisory Committee, therefore they have a vested interest in defending and protecting the bill, it means there is no objectivity when it comes to a discussion regarding discrepancies, flaws or omission,” he said.
But PM Mitchell said everyone has a conscience and lamented the “hypocrisy” of some Grenadians on the whole issue.
“I am saying it again that I will not initiate another attempt at this issue as Prime Minister of the country. I hold very dearly to this particular position,” he said, adding that the future of the next generation is at stake.