Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Monday, revealed certain elements of an opinion poll his party conducted in July, fuelling speculations that he might be testing the waters to determine if to call snap elections.
The speculations come amidst repeated court rulings in favour of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in the two election petitions it has filed challenging the results of the December 2015 general elections.
The Unity Labour Party (ULP), which Gonsalves leads, won the poll by retaining eight of the 15 parliamentary seats, while the remaining seven went to the NDP, in a repeat of the outcome of the 2010 polls.
The court is expected to hear next month an application by lawyers for the NDP to inspect the 2015 election documents, including the ballot boxes.
Gonsalves announced at a press conference on Tuesday that the ULP asked Caribbean Development Research Services to conduct the poll, which was done in July, canvassing the views of 963 Vincentians in the 12 constituencies in St. Vincent.
He said that the results of the survey show that among the issues with the greatest impact on the respondents and their families, health was 6 per cent.
“And we have to take regard of that,” the prime minister said.
He was speaking in the context of added focus on health care in St. Vincent and the Grenadines after the death of 75-year-old social and political activist, Oscar Allen.
Allen died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital two weeks after warning in a letter to hospital officials that the postponement, twice, of an urgent surgery to his large intestines could have “fatal consequences”.
Gonsalves said that the poll shows that persons are most concerned about jobs and crime.
“In fact, our success at so many of these things, like health, youth concerns, education, housing, water and electricity, garbage collection, these numbers recede as matters of greatest concern.”
When respondents were asked about the constituency issue of greatest concern, job and crime rose to 10 per cent and healthcare to 8 per cent, said Gonsalves, who is also minister of finance and national security.
The prime minister said that the issues most likely to influence a person’s vote are employment, cost of living, and crime.
He said leadership was 9 per cent and healthcare 3 per cent.
“Because people want responsible leadership, which is what I am providing here this morning. I am not being demagogue on the issue of health. I am saying what are the issues, where we are strong, where we have some weaknesses, and people must not go about drawing some conclusions which cannot be drawn on the facts.”
Regarding politics, Gonsalves said, “All I have to tell you is that I’m in a far better place than the other fellas. I wouldn’t tell you where I am.”
It is the first poll that the ULP is known to have conducted since Godwin Friday, who has been representing the Northern Grenadines since 2001, became president of the NDP and Leader of the Opposition last November, replacing Arnhim Eustace, who held both positions for about 16 years.
He said the figures were “not really” a shift from what other polls have found.
“What I notice with polls, outside of an election season, the number which they have for leadership, though significant, is lower than what they would normally put as they get closer to an election.
Asked if with this poll there is an election on the horizon, Gonsalves said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.”
He returned to the poll, saying that a majority of Vincentians now support either full or partial decriminalisation of marijuana.
He said this is “an improvement of 9 per cent in terms of complete” decriminalisation, but did not give the comparative figures.
“So that I guess that with the discussions that are going on – still there is a significant number of people who’re opposed to it: 35 per cent, for instance.
“I have to test what is happening on a number of issues. I am a scientific person.”