TAIPEI, Taiwan: – Vincentians have begun voting in a constitution referendum hours after Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves quoted Isaiah 41 and the poem “The Road Not Taken” in a last-minute appeal for a “yes” vote.
Just under 98,000 citizens are registered to vote at 225 polling stations, which opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 5 p.m., with results expected by midnight tonight, Eastern Caribbean time.
Vincentians will then know if fellow citizens prefer the proposed revised constitution or the one handed down to the multi-island nation at independence 30 years ago.
The referendum is being conducted in the same manner as a general elections. The sale of alcoholic beverages and the wearing of party symbols and other campaign paraphernalia are prohibited.
The vote is being monitored by regional and international observers including teams from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Gonsalves told citizens via a television broadcast Tuesday night that the 67 percent “yes” votes required to amend the constitution was an “undemocratic burden” left by British colonizer.
He was optimistic that even with the opposition having campaigned for a “no” vote, the 98,000 registered voters would overcome the “political Mt. Everest”.
“This is a most difficult feat to accomplish. But the echo in my bones and the noise in my blood tell me that our people are about to achieve that which has never been accomplished historically,” he said in the poetic address.
Gonsalves said that the proposed revised constitution was a “significant improvement” and was the best of a parliamentary type in the world.
He said that in SVG it had been endorsed by Christian leaders, trade unions, civil society, and even card carrying members of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
“The new constitution is a people’s charter, a workers’ charter, a believers’ charter, a women’s charter, a young people’s charter, a property owners’ charter and a charter for freedom and democracy,” he said.
He described the document as “more than an amalgam of its clauses”, saying that it expresses the nation’s self belief, self affirmation of universal and particularistic values of higher humanity, and self mastery in solidarity with each other under God’s grace and guidance.
“This new constitution is an uplifting document; a compendium of our fundamental law, which enriches our future and avoids its desecration. It provides a framework to help us accomplish the best we can do and be.
“We are not better than anyone else but no one is better than us. Our new constitution teaches this to our children to all our people and to the world,” he said.
Gonsalves chastised the NDP for abandoning the seven-year exercise in 2007 “on ground that were so baseless as to be laughable”.
The NDP had called for the dismissal of the then Supervisor of Election for alleged incompetence and the late filing of the report on the December 2005 general elections.
It also wanted the ULP to remove an election campaign billboard from East Kingstown and for ULP senator Julian Francis to say how he knew how many Syrian-Vincentians in that constituency had voted for him.
Gonsalves said that the withdrawal by the NDP of its support for constitutional reform was an “antinational stance and selfish posturing”.
He said that the NDP withdrew ten days after its leader, Arnhim Eustace, seconded in parliament a motion to set up a three-member constitution drafting committee.
Gonsalves told SVG that at the time, he and Eustace had agreed on the “basic contours of the constitution”, the 18 major tenets of the revised document.
“Only a few relatively minor details remained to be hammered out between us. Otherwise, there would have been no need to set up a drafting committee at that time.”
He said that the NDP, having taken a “political decision” against the process, “…met every compromise by us and my own personal good-naturedness with intransigence, lack of cooperation and a determination to derail this magnificent project of constitution remaking, fashioned by our people”.
Both the government and opposition carried out spirited campaign for and against the proposed revised constitution.
The NDP and its “Vote No” camp said the proposed document does not reduce the powers of the prime minister and that regular legislations could institute some of the proposed changes.
The Thusian Institute for Religious Liberty (TIRL) has joined with the NDP in calling for a vote “no”.
They have condemned the proposed constitution and have joined with the NDP in calling for a vote “no”
“When I study the document in its entirety, I believe that the areas of disagreement are fundamental enough to warrant a vote ‘no’,” its Associate Director Anesia Baptiste told I Witness-News on Monday.
She said that “the matter turns on the points of disagreement” and that Gonsalves “refused to bend on certain point” although his government had an opportunity to change the bill during the 90 days between the first and second readings.
“I have to judge the overall document based on the tenets that I have problems with. And, in that regard, I find it is not an improvement,” Baptiste said.
Analyst Jomo Thomas told I Witness-News on Sunday that today’s vote might turn out to be a referendum on the (ULP) administration ahead of general election due next year.
He believed that Gonsalves would have to “think long and hard about calling snap elections” if the “yes” votes are less than the 55 percent the ULP received in the December 2005 elections.
He was of the view that with the global economic crisis, it was highly unlikely that the ULP would get a third term in office.
But Gonsalves was very optimistic about victory and spoke in celebratory terms.
“How sweet the momentous victory will be in the name of all Vincentians at home and abroad.
“A courageous and proud people in the dawning years of the 21st century would have acted in solidarity with each other and under the suzerainty of Almighty God to fashion a home-grown constitution in the interest of their own humanization.”
He encouraged citizens to vote early and to vote “yes”.
“Let’s make a difference tomorrow. To our country, to our history, to our region, a magnificent day awaits us,” Gonsalves said in the address Tuesday night.