ST. VINCENT: – Political analysts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) are hoping that early returns from the first polling stations sometime before 7 p.m. will give an indication of the meaning of the large number of Vincentians who turned out to vote in general elections today.
A total of 101,053 persons are registered to cast ballots and political observers say Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the Unity Labour Party (ULP) face a tough challenge in their bid to stay in office for a third consecutive term.
Arnhim Eustace and the New Democratic Party are hoping that Vincentians are satisfied that after ten years in opposition they are once again ready to govern, which the party did for the 17 years ending 2001.
The Green Party, which has nominated 13 candidates, is not expected to have an impact on the outcome of the polls.
“Voter turnout appears to be very high,” analyst and social commentator Jomo Thomas told I Witness-News said shortly after polls closed at 5 p.m.
“There’s two ways to look at it: one way is to say that people are probably coming out with a vengeance because they want a change or it may well mean that opposition forces are coming out but the government forces are coming out as well,” Thomas said.
“We will have to see when the numbers start coming in about 6 o’clock this evening,” he added.
Journalist Hawkins Nanton, who is Editor of Midweek Searchlight, also felt that voter turnout was high.
“The turnout this morning was heavy, especially in places such as East Kingstown”.
In that constituency, Eustace, 65, and the ULP’s Luke Browne, a 25-year-old first time candidate, is locked in what has been pitched as the David and Goliath fight of the elections.
Nanton attributed the high turnout to the “intense” campaign, saying that the political parties used the Internet to get young persons involved.
“They tried to utilize their young people, especially like the NDP, their Young Democrats were involved, and the ULP … they had their campaign team which involved a lot of young people,” Nanton said.
“The campaign, as well as the sort of fever that was spread throughout the latter days of the campaign, I think that that was responsible for the young people’s participation. Also some of the candidates physically went out there and got a lot of young people registered,” the newsman added.
Both Eustace and Gonsalves in media addresses last night made last minute attempt to convince Vincentians that they and their respective parties are better able to manage the affairs of the country over the next five year.
But Thomas said that the broadcasts, which began at 7 p.m., might have been fruitless, adding, “I make nothing of them. I don’t think any of them was particularly effective.
“I think by then most people had made up their minds on where they are going to go. I don’t think they depended on both men’s final statements to make decision,” he said.
He, however, said that both leaders had missed an opportunity to be prime ministerial rather than partisan, adding that both of them mentioned their election slogans during their speeches.
“I think the address should have been a more formal address trying to speak to the minds of the people rather than being an agitational address,” Thomas said.
While Nanton said that he did not see Eustace’s address in its entirety, he said Gonsalves’ speech “was nothing new.
“…it was just the same rhetoric that I have heard over the years, … in terms of the same messages. It was like the final opportunity to reach home to Vincentians to basically say to them well these are the policies he will continue to pursue. He painted a picture as to why Vincentians should not vote for the New Democratic Party,” Nanton said.
Nanton concluded that Eustace was saying that “you must give the New Democratic Party a chance to prove themselves,” adding, “he was talking about the plans that they have for the country.”
Nanton said that his publication was yet to confirm reports that persons were arrested at a polling station, even after his reporters visited the polling station where the incident allegedly took place.
He said some voters, believed to be supporters of the NDP, protested at a polling station when a voter turned up in a red t-shirt, the colour of the ULP.
The tensions were quickly defused when a local lawyer explained that a colour is not a party symbol, the display of which is banned on Election Day.
“…the argument didn’t last long,” Nanton said, adding that the polling stations he visited on the windward (eastern) side of St. Vincent were calm.
“… things went smoothly, people were in the line just waiting on their turn to vote. … I didn’t hear anybody cursing or getting angry. People stood calmly in the sun,” Nanton said.
Chief of Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAS) observer mission Frank Almaguer said that his 10 member team had fanned out across the multi-island nation.
“In every case that we have witnessed, the polls opened on time, the material was there, the electoral officials were present as well as representative of two, in some cases, three parties. We found that in a number of the polling stations the lines were line but the setting was rather placid with people waiting patiently,”
Almaguer further said that electoral officials were carefully examining the credentials of voters.
The elections are also being observed by the teams from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, in addition to the local National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism.