TAIPEI, Taiwan: – Vincentians on Wednesday overwhelming voted against a revised constitution in a referendum that analysts say may have signalled the rejection of the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, one year ahead of general elections.
The first set of results, 86 “yes” votes to 176 “no” votes, reported at 6:15 p.m., quickly developed into a trend in favour of the Vote No camp.
The preliminary tally was 43.13 percent “yes” votes compared to 55.64 percent “no” votes, according to the government’s website.
The Electoral Office should verify the figures by Thursday with the final results scheduled to be sent to Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne by Friday, November 27.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will therefore continue under the 1979 constitution handed to the country at independence, the proposed revised constitution having failed to receive the required 67 percent of the “yes” votes.
Analysts said that it was significant that the Vote Yes camp, led by the government, also failed to register 55 percent of the votes, the figure the ULP gained at the December 2005 general elections.
Renwick Rose, commenting on the voting patterns, said that had the referendum been general elections, the Arnhim Eustace-led opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), would have won 13 of the 15 parliamentary seats.
“[The results] may strongly suggest that a change of administration is around the corner,” said Anesia Baptiste of the Thusian Institute for Religious Liberty which joined with the NDP in campaigning against the bill.
“It says the people did not want the bill but it may also be saying that they no longer want the ULP,” she told I Witness-News on Thursday.
Analyst Jomo Thomas told I Witness-News on Sunday that with the economic crisis, Gonsalves’ ULP would be hard-pressed to gain a third consecutive term in office.
However, lawyer Andrew Cummings, commenting on the result as they were being announced, said that the outcome of the referendum might not be a prediction of the results of the next elections.
“One has to be careful in not being duped. This is a referendum and we are not yet sure if people voted strictly along party lines. But the trends clearly indicate that the “no” vote is in the ascendency,” he said.
Rose, commenting in the same forum, said that the results of the elections would give the NDP a boost in confidence.
“If it looks as though the government is slipping, that the ULP is slipping, that it is not …, in spite of having all the resources at its command, … able to win the support of the majority of the people on this, it can very well be rough going for them in the next 15 months.”
The referendum came after seven years of consultation and some EC$11m (US$4m) in consultation and other costs to the state, including EC$4m (US$1.48) spent on the “Vote Yes” campaign.
The NDP withdrew from the bipartisan effort in 2007 and the divide escalated last summer when the government refused to compromise on some issues.
Both sides then announced plans to campaign for and against the document even as the People’s Movement for Change called for a postponement of the vote.
Rose said that while the discussion on the issues where extensive they were not always intensive. He said that he was disappointed that after the country got to the “political season” the debate broaden to include issues irrelevant to the constitution, including the economy.
He, however, noted that the discussions touched on “issues of the ordinary working people”, adding that the “Vote Yes” camp might have underestimated the impact of issues unrelated to the constitution.
He further said that, without empirical data, it was difficult to decide if Vincentians voted against the referendum rather than the ULP. This was unlikely and there seemed to be a general shift in party allegiance, he opined.
Cummings said that before another constitution referendum was brought to the people, it would be helpful to understand why the one yesterday failed.
But Baptiste told I Witness-News that Vincentians have “officially killed the bill with which they had serious grievances and the government is obliged to listen to their voices”.
“The government owes the people an apology for the contemptuous attitude displayed to the people by them and for the insults through bribe attempts and tactics,” she said, adding that citizens were called “juveniles” and “uninitiated in the law”.
“Well the so-called “recalcitrant minorities” have spoken, Dr. Gonsalves, and it has proven to be an even larger majority than what the ULP received when it last took office.”
Baptiste, who aspires to be the country’s first female prime minister, said the results should send a strong signal to Gonsalves that he has failed SVG “and that a change of administration is strongly on its way.
“Let it also sound a warning to politicians of the future and to the governments of the region that they ought not to follow this path,” she said.
Some commentators have suggested that many Vincentians, voting in their first referendum, did not fully understand that they were being asked to vote for or against the proposed constitution and not for a party or on any other issue.
As results were being announced, Jimmy Prince, Director of the Agency for Public Information clarified for some sections of the audience that there were no candidates in the referendum hence the announcement of only the number of “yes” and “no” votes.
Journalist Jerry George, in a Facebook status update said, “My observations today from going around is that the concept of voting for an idea – which a Referendum – has not caught on.”
The results of the vote generated mixed reactions among Vincentians at home and abroad. Some took to the streets of SVG, dancing and blowing conch shells in celebration.
“… For the first time since 2001, our people was not afraid to tell the government “No”. What a rejection! Vincentians, be proud that you showed the world how to speak out against injustices…” Ramon De Freitas, a Vincentian student in Florida, wrote on Facebook.
Other Facebookers expressed their disappointment through their updates.
Rea Warrican asked if the country had voted “for party or country” while Lucilue Pitt said SVG “will suffer because of the backward illiterate folks you contain”.
DJ Groove Governor, who supported the proposed constitution, used the social networking site to call on fellow Vincentians to respect the decision of the majority.
“Whatever were the limitations of the Yes campaign, the people have spoken…No! … [Let us agree to disagree] in the interest of national development; let us continue to debate with intensity and gut feelings with no X-rated language,” he urged.
I Witness-News was not immediately aware of any statements from Gonsalves or Eustace after the results were announced.
However, in a video posted on the Vote Yes YouTube channel on Wednesday, Gonsalves had come down from his celebratory high when he addressed the nation on Tuesday night.
“How sweet the momentous victory will be in the name of all Vincentians at home and abroad… Let’s make a difference tomorrow. To our country, to our history, to our region, a magnificent day awaits us,” he said in the address Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, shortly after he voted, Gonsalves spoke of the possibility that citizens would not approve the proposed constitution.
“…[S]hould we fall short, we would have nevertheless lit a beacon to shine a light, to illuminate the pathways against the remnants of colonialism in the interest of our people’s humanization,” he said.
Gonsalves, in his independence address last month, announced an EC$30m (US$11.11m) “gift” to the nation.
It included EC$200 (US$74) for each of the nation’s 30,000 students, bonuses for pensioners, a fertilizer subsidy, and the sale of lands from 10 cents to EC$1.50 (US$0.03 to US$0.55) per square-foot
Last week, he promised a holiday next Monday and to personally pay for Jamaican artiste Busy Signal to return to SVG for a second concert if the referendum got 67 percent of the “yes” votes.
The Vote Yes campaign paid for the artiste to perform in SVG last weekend.
Analysts said that both political parties have used the referendum to advance their political interest, namely to analyse their chances at the next elections.
Some say that the country has lost, having missed a golden opportunity to ban together in the interest of constitutional advancement and became more politically divided in the process.
However, Baptiste believed that SVG has undergone “a change of consciousness and we will never be the same.
“A revolution hath begun in our hearts and it will lead us into a golden era of protection for rights and freedoms and prosperity, peace and happiness, including material success,” she told I Witness-News.