Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” Oct. 30, 2020)

 “Young man, as you peer down the pathway of life toward an unavoidable bald head bordered with grey hairs, it would be well to bear in mind that the cemeteries are full of men this world could not get along without, and note the fact that things move along after each funeral procession at about the same gait they went before. It makes no difference how important you may be, don’t get the idea under your hat that this world can’t get along without you.” — Elbert Hubbard.

Next Thursday’s elections pit Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the four-time Prime Minister of SVG, the self-proclaimed heavyweight champion of Vincentian politics, against Dr. Godwin Friday, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

On paper, there seems to be no competition. Dr. Gonsalves, apart from his successes in politics, lectured at the University of the West Indies and then left to establish a stellar and profitable law practice. He is a published academic. Dr. Friday built a life and career in law and academia before returning to SVG to take over the constituency as a replacement for James Mitchell, the retiring leader and founder of the party.

Dr. Gonsalves began his walk in the hall of power in 2001 after leading his Unity Labour Party (ULP) to a resounding 12 to 3 trouncing of the DP. He retained power in 2005, 2010 and 2015, although in the last two cycles he narrowly held on with 8 to 7 victories.

Gonsalves is a daring, big picture politician. This explains his grand achievements best exemplified by the Rabacca Bridge, the construction of the Argyle International Airport and SVG successful efforts to obtain a seat on the United Nations Security. On top of these is his strategic commitment to education, which unlocked the ivory towers of university study to hundreds of Vincentian youth.

For 15 of his 19 years in Parliament, Dr. Friday worked in the shadows of Arnhim Eustace. Following his emergence as leader in 2017, he shouldered the hefty responsibility of mending the breach in the party, which at times, witnessed the almost open rebellion of St. Clair Leacock, who lost his bid to be party leader.

In many respects, Dr. Friday is the anti-Ralph. Whereas Dr. Gonsalves is professorial and folksy, vitriolic and combative, Dr. Friday presents in even tones, as if intended that citizens with the lowest cultural level will understand. Gonsalves angrily draws a line in the sand while Friday quietly works to learn the lay of the land.

His predecessor was dubbed “Mr. Clean” by opposition forces. They have embraced Friday and projected him as the right man for the job. Sir James touts Dr. Friday’s likeability. Gonsalves, who countered with the mantra that “difficult times demand an experienced, steady hand”, must know, as is true for every other citizen, cemeteries are filled with men who thought they were indispensable.

Dr. Gonsalves remains ideological and philosophical in rhetoric if not disposition, while Dr. Friday seems unhitched to political theory except for a commitment to the free enterprise system. Evidently, he appears convinced that once the private sector is allowed to practise unencumbered, people will prosper, and the nation will thrive.

Will Gonsalves prowess and experience carry him to a fifth term? Much will depend on the independent, critical thinking sliver of voters, as well as which party ploughs deepest into the communities to get out the vote.

The nation is literally split down the middle. The opposition garnered more than 48% of the votes in 2015. Both parties have solid, active bases so they may be fooled by the huge crowds that have flocked their meetings. An X factor: while supporters of the governing ULP feel free to show their true colours, potential voters for the opposition may be more discrete, intent on speaking only at the polling booth.

A successful fifth term is akin to scaling a political Mt Everest. Few have gotten there and not many may even attempt the feat. Gonsalves is sufficiently audacious, but the odds are daunting. The ULP has taken the strategic decision to run away from its 4th term. Nothing of significance happened. Technically, the international airport opened in 2017, but that mantra fitted the 2015 campaign, and even with the airport the ULP barely held on to power.

The geothermal plant, ULP signature project, which was oversold as a cure to our energy needs, failed spectacularly. Unemployment remains a massive problem. Hopelessness and helplessness land knockout punches to hope and optimism. A malaise has gripped large sections of the population, social prostitution is rampant, and more people have turned to the lottery as a means of survival, thus compounding their miseries.

The society is largely unglued. Too many people don’t know whether they are going or coming. Too many rely on remittances from abroad or simple begging. Poverty remains as high as when the ULP took office 19 years ago.

That’s the canvas on which both leaders paint our future. Politics is about narrative and counter-narrative. He who tells the most compelling story will prove most effective. Will Friday’s clarion call of jobs, jobs, jobs win over most voters to turn the table on Gonsalves? Will voters settle for Gonsalves’ stretch back into earlier years to mine vote-winning nuggets like education, low-income homes and the airport?

The ULP lifted the expectation of many people, especially the youths. Such unfulfilled expectations may prove its undoing. The sad experience of so many youths exemplifies the deep pockets of dissatisfaction so pervasive across the country.

Could Friday do what Eustace failed to do? Apart from our daunting economic and social conditions made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the dengue fever outbreak, Friday has a trump card. Because postcolonial SVG is not post-colonial, his lighter hue offers him a “leg up”, which Eustace’s darker complexion never provided. Will it be enough?

Gonsalves has confided that these elections are very tight and could go either way. A large swath of the dissatisfied voters is up for grabs. We will soon know if they will make a sharp turn to the opposition or crown Gonsalves as “world boss”.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

7 replies on “David and Goliath”

  1. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    Sanga at last a few inches of truthfulness, but watch out the World Boss will mark you as a traitor.

  2. Percival Thomas says:

    Thank you Jomo Thomas for a well balanced and well discussed article. That includes: political factors, economic factors and social factors. Nothing to criticised here except the factor of the need for a CHANGE. I sense Vincentians want a change in government. Coupled with the failure of the ULP governments to grow the economy and reduced unemployment. As well as having a high level of poverty. Lack of road repairs, failure to build a hospital. Perhaps, part of the failure of the ULP was to focus on big projects and forgotten about the bread and butter issues.
    In my view VIncentians want solutions to the small things that make their life better, such as road repairs. As important as AIA is to the country. It won’t help most Vincentians in the short run. The repairs of roads are far more important.
    And as you have noted Jomo. The ULP won convincingly in 2001 and 2005. But narrowly in 2010 and 2015. The win in 2015 is disputed. It might be useful to put the number of seats in these elections in a table. But I don’t how these figures will behaved when this piece is posted.

    Year ULP NDP
    Seats Seats

    2001 12 3

    2005 12 3

    2010 8 7

    2015 8 7

    2020 ? ?.

    Who will be brave enough to fill in the seats for ULP and NDP 2020.
    I would say that it is unlikely ULP going to increase number of seats in 2020. Their popularity has waned and they look a tired party under the leadership of the PM.
    The ULP might well be blown away by a wind of CHANGE.

  3. Kenroy martin says:

    This is a very good analysis of the current situation but I must mention here the party who loses may just be finished for good .Up whould suffer for leadership and NDP season politician would find it difficult to sit as opposition for a fourth term.

  4. Jomo. Base on your own analysis we the People is suffering from Political Education for all the year we still malnourished and this reason they are on Party Line rather that Policies, Development Plans.

    It so said that 99% of Vincy do not know about Budgets, How Government is being Finance, Taxes ,Grants, Loans andnEtc.

    Jomo, i will also say that you did much to help us thru Opinion page but us the same polical rhetoric.
    Tell us to Vote and for Party who is offering some thing New not same stagnation and strangulation policies as a New Wine in Old Bottle. Building an Air Port does not give you right of pass indifinately to be Prime Minister.
    That was in the NDP manifesto and all the plans and programs that you stole and implement. Please give some credit. When you took over the process was in play.
    Exploration of Areas, Money Allocations and Wind Studies and etcs.

    And also are other AirPorts built by the NDP plus the Cruise Berth, Grenadine and Campen Park they all under same terms.

    When last Jomo,did you visit our health Institutions in SVG so that give some insight to make voting decisios rather i love mi party to death and you it work (Dengue Fever) snd no penalty for such action to Mr Death and Ralph i e. Hear I come.
    Jomo did going each Constituency and give honest assessment of development , how many people are employed and many are walking the streets seeking hangout.

    As columnist and you love your Country you will tell. Us to look at your area and our living standards first, community under Ulp for 20yr better. Is it better done just me fighting jabs David and Goliath.

    Jomo, you make choices and changes because you are political smart even if some are questionable.
    You ldid left house of wax and dead bones because of distastefulness and as a independent thinker you should of sound the Warning to Nation ,becareful it Will get more sinks if you do not Get Rid Of Them.

    Jomo, i know you have to tread lightly.
    Noug Respect. But I still will like you give us some political lesson on Contrasts and Compare, my obligation as Citizens and Voter.

    Facts from Rhetoric, political propaganda, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism. All These are in the Revolutionary Manifesto.

    Can you break them in simple language that our people can learn so that nwe will see through the Red Herring when they rise their ugly Heads again. Thid may help rewrite some of your wrong putting your Country first again.

    My to cents

  5. Ricardo Francis says:

    I am not a supporter of any political party in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and I am not a friend of Ralph Gonsalves. Certainly, we are not friends, by any means.

    I take note of the political trends and developments in the world, at present, and recent elections in some countries around the world.

    I am of the view, that the ULP may be re-elected to office. If this is the case, this may be their last time being re-elected. The election results maybe: 11 to 4.

    In a period of economic uncertainties, general speaking, as is the case at the moment in the world, the incumbent government is usually returned to office.

    I am not suggesting by any means that I am endorsing the potential election results.

    I am very fearless and courageous.

    Ricardo Francis, Prime Minister of St.VIncent and the Grenadines in Waiting and in the Making

  6. Kenroy Martin you are so correct, political demise is awaiting either of the party. They may well listen to their proverbial death announcement. Ralph will not stay on if he loses the election and there will be a horse race as either Luke , Camillo or Saboto jockey for power.

    A similar analogy awaits the NDP, Friday may retire back in Canada. He is adrenaline will be drained to the extent that he will have no such appetite for continuation. In any event the death announcement is awaiting the leadership of the party who losses the general election. Every day is Friday will then the meaningless.

  7. Sadly, my dear Jomo, as you have rightly observed in this, “postcolonial SVG is not post-colonial, his lighter hue offers him a “leg up”, which Eustace’s darker complexion never provided.” So sad, oh so sad!

    And what a shame for us! Five hundred years of domestication have produced that malady known as the Stockholm Syndrome in many. The same is observed by others too and grossly exploited to great advantage!

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