KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says it will stage its own campaign beginning next month to encourage Vincentians to vote “No” when the proposed new Constitution goes before a referendum in November.
“We will campaign against it fully like if we are running an election campaign,” leader of the opposition and NDP president Arnhim Eustace told I Witness-News this week.
The NDP has withdrawn its support for the proposed Constitution, saying that it is not an advancement on the 1979 edition, given to the country by Britain at independence.
“I am deeply disappointed in what has been presented to parliament,” Eustace said.
He said that the Constitutional Reform Committee failed to meet its “seminal challenge” of deepening democracy and reducing prime ministerial power.
“There is no proposal there now that I see reduces the powers of the prime minister… As the prime minister said, we can describe the present system as one not of parliamentary government, not of cabinet government, but essentially of prime ministerial government.”
Eustace said that the things he considers fundamental and which have to be in a Constitution are not included in the proposed document.
He further said that those that he liked and are also fundamental but don’t have to be in the Constitution, are included.
Among these, he mentioned the Ombudsman, the Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Eustace said that the parliamentary committee set up to review the proposed Constitution has a “fundamental flaw”.
“It operated like the parliament. All the ministers lined up with the government in their comments and the opposition lined up with me in their comments. … [T]here is no sense of trying to come to a compromise.
“There are areas in there where Parnel Campbell, as chairman, is appealing to Gonsalves, [saying that] the opposition is right, even the one with the value of land, the CRC supported the NDP on that, but [Dr. Gonsalves] doesn’t want it so it can’t happen.”
Eustace said Vincentians were not going to vote “just for the constitution”.
He said they would be casting their ballots for the party they want to see in government after the next elections, due in December 2010.
He said that the NDP and the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), headed by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, were both looking at the proposed constitutions with the next general elections “in the back of their minds”.
He believed that if the constitutional review exercise had gotten to this stage at a time that was not close to the end of a political term, “it would have been different”.
“People would not have been looking down the road to elections. The closer you get to election time, the worst it is for the constitution. The average man in the street looks at it that way,” he said.
Eustace did not believe that the proposed revised Constitution would garner the two-thirds majority vote.
“The Constitution should not be looked at at a time close to a general elections and I have made that point to the Commission on a number of occasions. Too many partisan political matters will get in the way.
“In addition to that, it is very difficult to get 66 2/3 percent of a vote in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said, noting that the NDP did not get two-thirds of the vote when it won all the parliamentary seats in the 1989 elections.
He said that the country needed a document “that really convinces people”, adding, “But in this adversarial kind of relationship … there is no way anybody is going to get 66 2/3 percent.”
He said that Dr. Gonsalves was using the referendum to gauge his Unity Labour Party’s chances at the next poll.
“My view is that the Prime Minister is hoping that he gets 55 percent, which will give him a clue as to whether he should go with the election sooner or later,” he said.
He believed that if 55 percent of the referendum votes are “yes”, Dr. Gonsalves would call the elections within three months after the referendum.
“I have made that point over and over, saying, ‘You are pushing this thing too close to the end of a political term.’ A lot of other matters are going to get mixed up in that because the public is treating it like elections.”
Eustace said that Vincentians would stick to their positions on the Constitution after the bill is read for the third and final time in Parliament on Tuesday.
Regarding is party’s chances at the next poll, Eustace said, “All I will say is that the NDP is in a far better position than the last time. This country is in a lot of trouble”.
The NDP secured 45 percent of the votes and three of the 15 parliamentary seats in the 2005 general election, a repeat of the 2001 results.
Dr. Gonsalves this month promised “a spirited campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote as you would see for any election”.