Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inauguration Day

Monday, October 3, was Inauguration Day in my village (I was without my laptop recently, so I'm a bit behind with my stories). Several weeks before this Inauguration Day, an election was held to fill five seats on the Village Council, the governing body of our community. [See my previous story about when I served as an election observer.]

Local government in Dominica is a bit different than what I am accustomed to in the USA. The five elected council persons are joined by three councilors selected by the national government. All eight are referred to as council members and treated equally, as (to their credit) no distinction seems to be made between those who were appointed and those who ran in the election.

I'm guessing that they prefer having an even number of council members, because this encourages consensus, since if something doesn't get a majority of at least five members, then it can't be undertaken. In other words, a slim majority of just one vote can't make a difference, as happens when you have an odd number on the council. Even numbers require a two vote margin (in this case, 5 to 3).

On Monday, trucks from the Bureau of Local Government (or some similarly named bureaucratic agency) showed up with tents, chairs, and a low platform stage. They set it all up at the edge of the playing field close to the village. Madras cloth material (a Dominican tradition) was affixed to the upper sides of the tent, the Dominican flag was set up, balloons were inflated, and floral arrangements were added. In a short time during the afternoon, a nice venue was created.

The ceremony started at 4:00 with the arrival of dignitaries. There were three members of Parliament there, including one who was serving as the Acting Prime Minister (since our Prime Minister was currently out of the country on business). Several other government officials were there as well.

However, the highest official who came was none other than the President of Dominica, Charles Savarin. Here is a picture of him being escorted from the sharp black BMW limousine that brought him to our isolated village from the capital (notice the small Dominican flag on the front corner of the car).

Let me try to explain what little I know about how Dominica is governed. I think it is similar to many other Caribbean island nations as well as other former British colonies around the world.

Dominica has a population of about 70,000 (which is a good bit less than the 90,000 residents of Wood County whom I was elected to serve two four-year terms in 1992 and 1996). The island is divided up into 12 parishes, which each elect a parliamentary representative (often referred to as a "par rep").

From among these 12, one is selected to serve as the Prime Minister, which is the real seat of power in this country. The President, although highly respected, seems to me to be more of a figurehead for ceremonial purposes. However, everyone seemed proud that he was there.

After some initial remarks, each of the new council members was formally sworn into office, in a manner similar to the swearing in ceremonies that I went through. Below is a picture of my host-sister being sworn in.

Then the program called for remarks from the outgoing chairman, followed by remarks from the incoming chairman of the village council. In our case, the incumbent won re-election, and his new council members voted to keep him as chairman, so we only had one speech rather than two. Below is a picture of all eight of our new village council members. The five who were elected were all incumbents from the previous council, while the three appointees are new (although they have been active in the community).
The Acting Prime Minister gave a nice talk, as did one of the other elected members of parliament. At the closing of the ceremony, one of our students, dressed in her finest traditional costume, presented the dignitaries with baskets of fruit. Here she is after the ceremony was over with her parents.
Then, our school choir (with all the other students dressed in their school uniforms) went up on stage to sing a song for the ceremony (which was all being filmed for the television news). They did an excellent job! Here they are performing (with one teacher directing in front while another helps the singing from her position in the corner of the back row).
After the ceremony, free food and drinks were provided, and folks milled about socializing even after it became dark. All in all, it was a nice way to celebrate democracy in my village. I look forward to continuing my work with the new village council.

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