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Dominica’s High Court in January 2012 ruled in favor of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Education Minister Petter Saint Jean, who had been accused by the opposition United Workers Party of holding dual citizenship at the time of their elections to the parliament in 2009. Eliud Williams was elected by the House of Assembly in September to replace former president Nicholas Liverpool, who resigned for health reasons.
Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978. The centrist Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory in the January 2000 parliamentary elections, and formed a coalition with the right-wing Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). DLP leader Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas was named prime minister, but died of a heart attack in October 2000. His replacement, Pierre Charles, died of heart failure in January 2004, and was succeeded by DLP member Roosevelt Skerrit. After the DLP won a majority of seats in the following year’s parliamentary elections, the DFP struggled to remain relevant and was not represented in the parliament.
In the December 2009 legislative elections, the DLP captured 18 seats, while the United Workers Party (UWP) took only 3. The elections were deemed generally fair by regional observer teams. However, opposition members accused the DLP of misconduct during the campaign and filed complaints of electoral irregularities, including having been denied equal access to state media during the campaign period. They also accused Skerrit and Education Minister Petter Saint Jean of holding dual citizenship at the time of the elections, which under Dominican law would have made them ineligible to hold office. The courts rejected all of the complaints in 2010, except for the dual citizenship case, which was brought to trial in September 2011. In January 2012, a High Court judge ruled that the 2009 elections of Skerrit and St. Jean had been constitutional and that they should retain their posts. The UWP filed an appeal with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which the Court heard in November; however, the Court had yet to issue a ruling at year’s end.
Following the resignation of President Nicholas Liverpool for health reasons, the House of Assembly was called to session on September 17, 2012, to elect a new president. DLP candidate Eliud Williams was sworn in that day, with approval from the prime minister, though the UWP protested and boycotted the election, arguing that the process leading to his nomination was unconstitutional. Williams will hold office until general elections in October 2013.
Economic growth continued to be slow in 2012. The International Monetary Fund reported that weak demand and an outbreak of banana leaf disease—which has negatively impacted the nation’s important banana industry—have affected Dominica’s attempts to recover from the global economic crisis.
Dominica is an electoral democracy. The unicameral House of Assembly consists of 30 members who serve five-year terms; 21 members are directly elected and nine senators are appointed—five by the prime minister and four by the opposition leader. The president, who is the ceremonial head of state, is elected by the House of Assembly for a five-year term, and the prime minister is appointed by the president. The three main political parties are the ruling DLP, the opposition UWP, and the DFP.
The government generally implements anticorruption laws effectively. As an offshore financial center with a significant international business company presence, Dominica passed a series of laws in November 2011 to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Dominica was ranked 41 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed, and the press is generally free in practice. However, the country lacks access to information legislation, and defamation remains a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. Libel lawsuits and threats are commonly used by the Skerrit government against members of the media, which has resulted in the practice of self-censorship. In late December 2011, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit filed a libel lawsuit against economist Thomson Fontaine over allegations Fontaine had made on his popular blog that the government was abusing its economic citizenship program that sells passports to foreigners. The case was ongoing at the end of 2012. Broadcaster Lennox Linton, who was found guilty in 2011 of defamation and sentenced to pay EC$50,000 (about US$18,500) in damages to accountant Keiron Pinard-Byrne, appealed his case before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in April 2012; the court reserved its judgment in May, and had yet to pass a judgment at year’s end. Four private weekly newspapers are published without interference, and there are both public and private radio stations. Citizens have unimpeded access to cable television and the internet.
Freedom of religion is protected under the constitution and other laws. While the majority of the population is Roman Catholic, there are some Protestant churches. Academic freedom is respected.
The authorities uphold freedoms of assembly and association, and advocacy groups operate freely. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively, and laws prohibit anti-union discrimination by employers. Nevertheless, there is little union organizing in the informal sector, and less than 30 percent of the private sector is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the inter-island Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Efforts to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal, instead of the Privy Council in London, continued in 2012 with no resolution by year’s end. The judicial system generally operates with efficiency, though staffing shortfalls remain a problem.
The Dominica police force, which became responsible for security after the military was disbanded in 1981, operates professionally and with few human rights complaints.
Dominica’s small indigenous population, the Carib-Kalingo, face a variety of challenges, including a higher poverty rate than the rest of the country, encroachment on their territory by farmers, and difficulties in obtaining loans from banks. Rastafarians in Dominica also report discrimination and profiling by the police.
Women are underrepresented in government and hold just four seats in the House of Assembly. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work in private-sector jobs or criminalizing domestic abuse. Same-sex relations are criminalized for both men and women with punishments of imprisonment, and gay men and lesbians face significant social discrimination.