By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Sept. 25, 2020)
If we mark Dec. 10, 2020 as the outside date within which elections will be called, there are less than 80 days before Vincentians decide which party will lead them for the next five. The elections of 2010 and 2015 both ended in an eight to seven result. Each of the two major parties will be vying to loosen the logjam.
Rhetoric notwithstanding, the opposition leaders and their supporters are cautiously optimistic. ULP leaders and supporters are cocksure of a fifth term. Evidently, the ULP bullishness stems from the fact that it has the power of incumbency and has consistently used it to its advantage. The expression of confidence by opposition leaders has not yet captured the imagination of some of its core supporters. They fear that even with hard work they may come up short again.
Gonsalves has repeatedly claimed that his ULP received a “bad hand” in 2001, even as his party romped home to a 12 to 3 electoral victory and 56% of the votes cast. He claimed to have steadied the ship of state, and that things are much better than they were 20 years ago.
Those in opposition, and especially independent-minded citizens, maintain that progress has been lopsided, and that we have had development only on the margins, not enough to have a transformative impact on most citizens.
Poverty at 30%, daily begging of young and old on the streets, high unemployment rate (estimated to be over 40% of young people, and the hundreds of higglers on the streets eking out a living, provide evidence of a developmental malaise.
The corresponding high levels of crimes against persons and property, particularly sexual assaults and rape, theft of livestock, fruits, vegetables and ground provisions of farmers; the rapidly increasing helplessness and hopefulness which have arrested pockets of our citizenry, are frightening proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
A significant section of the population asserts if ever there was a time for a change, the time is now. But will most of the voters’ demand change and ensure that it comes? While dissatisfaction is seething and anger is growing, this reality may be reflecting signs of resignation and alienation from the status quo rather than activism intended to change the order of things.
Gonsalves initially expressed an interest in two terms, promised to make the election of 2010 his last as leader, but is going for a fifth term. He may want to go, but the political dynamic does not allow him. He has done everything since 2000 to groom his son to relieve him but the polls may not be cheering him on — at least not yet.
He remains a lightning rod for good and bad. He could be caring and callous, inspiring and spiteful, uplifting and wont to dive into the gutters if he calculates that politics of the lowest order will take him to the highest heights. In many respects, including popular appeal, he may be the best and the worst the ULP has to offer. The rhetoric about transition, which was such a prominent feature in the 2015 election campaign, has all but disappeared from the leader.
But elections 2020 must be his last dance. If neither he nor his party wants to test someone else as the leader in an electoral contest, biology will demand that Gonsalves exit the political stage, thus exposing the ULP’s soft underbelly.
Be that as it may, Gonsalves, who stormed home to victory in 2001 with a 12 to 3 majority, watched as his party’s popular vote and parliamentary seats shrunk. The popular vote for the party ticked upward in 2015 and Gonsalves will like to leave a parting gift to the up and coming team. Forced to invoke the concessionary mantra “a win is a win” after the 2010 and 2015 eight to seven electoral victories, Gonsalves will want to leave with an increased majority in Parliament.
And the party is pulling out all the stops. A bathhouse at Questelles Bay, promised more than a decade ago, will be in place for the elections. The Community Centre at Retreat, which had fallen into disrepair, is getting a new roof and replacement window. Hopefully the clean running water and electricity will return. Vermont and Penniston Community Centres are showcases for the neglect of an area that strongly support the ULP. We shall soon see if people will forget or forgive.
In North Leeward, roads that went into disuse decades ago have gotten attention. Bridges in Chateaubelair, which collapsed years ago, are hastily being readied for completion as the election fever rises. Apparently, those in authority could not have cared less about the years of inconvenience faced by citizens.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the sole purpose of winning elections is not to govern and bring benefits to the more desperate and marginalised sections of the population, but rather to prepare for the next election victory. In the meantime, the political and economic elite get fatter as they gorge themselves off the opportunity presented by the control of state power.
There are issues galore on which a properly organised opposition party can feast. If the NDP is serious about entering victory row after its two-decade long spell in opposition, it must first abandon its rhetoric about the elections being stolen. If it thinks it has no chance because the process is rigged against it — few persons in SVG believe this is the case — it must call a press conference, outline its case and boycott the elections. This idea is not novel. It has happened in our Caribbean before. However, charges of fraud before an election tell supporters not to bother because their efforts, no matter how determined, will be in vain.
If Dr. Friday and the NDP leadership think their chances are good and there is a real likelihood of success, they must arm and ready their supporters with that optimism and hone a clear message for the coming battle.
These upcoming elections are not over by a long shot. The race will tighten as the date for voting gets closer. We cannot yet say which party forms the next government.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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