Opposition confident of court victory in election petitions, three years later

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — The leader of the main Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) Dr Godwin Friday has described as “wishful thinking” any suggestion that the party would abandon its court challenge to the outcome of the 2015 general elections.

Friday told a news conference yesterday that his party is still confident of victory in the courts where it is challenging two successful seats won by the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, giving it a fourth consecutive term in office. The ULP won the December 9, 2015 poll by a slender one-seat majority, the same margin it achieved in the previous election when it won by 8-7.

The NDP's Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter are challenging the election of the ULP's Montgomery Daniel and Sir Louis Straker in North Windward and Central Leeward constituencies.

The party is asking the High Court to declare its candidates the winners of the elections in the contested districts or to order fresh elections there.

“That's why we have been pursuing this so vigorously. Of course, we believe in the strength of our case, the petitioners believe in the strength of the case, the lawyers believe in the strength of the case. But ultimately that will be a matter for the courts to decide and we will present the best evidence that we can, the best arguments…,” he said.

In 2017, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, citing bias by trial judge Justice Brian Cottle, reinstated the election petitions and the matter was due to have come up for hearing late last year. But the new judge, Esco Henry, recused herself after setting February 11 as the new date.

“As you know, we had a situation where the matter had been struck out… it was reinstated with the instructions that it be done expeditiously,” Friday told reporters.

“We are now at a point where we have had the third date for the trial. Subsequent to the setting of that date Justice Henry recused herself from the case and this created some concern as to the readiness of (her) replacement …to be ready for the February 11 date.

“We have been proceeding on that basis and we have had nothing to indicate that there is any reason to say that it is not going to be heard on that day,” the opposition leader said.

He said that there is a service hearing scheduled for January 24 “and we will know better how the judge is thinking”.

“As to the question of time passing and whether …this in any way reduces or affects our commitment to the case, absolutely not. This is a matter that we have been committed to as a matter of principle,” Friday said, adding that while there will be future general elections here “we have to guarantee confidence in that process”.

“If we don't do it, then we would have failed in our duty to the people of this country,” he said, adding that confidence in the electoral system will only come “if the mechanisms that are there to challenge irregularities… are used and seen through to their conclusion”.

Attorney Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, a member of the NDP, said that the petitions are very important to the future of elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines and for the right of free and fair elections by secret ballot.

She said in the 2015 elections, “over 300 ballots which should not have been counted were counted” and that the ballot was “poorly designed and led to a breach of secrecy”.

“Many of you would have seen pictures of those ballots…but we have no doubt that the strength of our case ...(we) are going to prevail,” she told reporters.

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