*By Vaughan Toney
I was listening recently to the prime minister’s presentation of his Unity Labour Party’s election manifesto when, at the end of his remarks, he announced that “this will be the last time I will be presenting a manifesto as your prime minister”. His words were accompanied by the song “Would you stand by me” in the background. The people in the room were visibly moved: many were brought to tears and one young woman was practically inconsolable as she sobbed while saying repeatedly, “I love my PM! I love my PM! I love my PM!” I, too, shed a tear because at that moment it struck me that a giant was about to depart the political stage and he will undoubtedly be missed for at least a generation. His shoes will be hard to fill in so many respects — not the least of which are his depth and breadth of knowledge, his sonorous voice and unique delivery that captivate the attention of any audience from beginning to end. No one does it better than the Comrade. And so I feel compelled to add my voice to this election debate.
When Vincentians head to the polls this Thursday, they will be doing so at a time when the stakes have rarely been higher. Amid a resurgent global pandemic, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are warning of a worldwide economic contraction that will stoke poverty and damage growth over the next year. According to this latest forecast, extreme global poverty is expected to rise for the first time in two decades, triggering worsening inequality and a “severe setback” for improvements to living standards. The outlook for our regional Caribbean economies is similarly grim, as falling tourism and remittance inflows are projected to impose a severe drag on growth for the remainder of this year and well into the next.
In short, our nation is facing a moment of great consequence, and on Thursday, Nov. 5, our people will decide which party has the best leadership in this election to meet this moment. There may yet be some who are still undecided on this question but for me, the choice is clear: In navigating the economic shoals and challenges that lie ahead, our ship of state will require a calm, steady and experienced hand to guide us safely through these treacherous waters. And the only qualified candidate with the vision, expertise and demonstrated leadership required to captain our ship of state at this time is Comrade Ralph.
In nearly two decades at the helm, Comrade Ralph has successfully charted a course for our nation that has brought unprecedented expansion of opportunity into the everyday lives of all Vincentians. Notwithstanding the fluctuating fortunes of the global economy, he has remained steadfast in his commitment to enhance our quality of life, elevate our standard of living and create for all Vincentians an equal and just society. Under his leadership, our society is being visibly transformed by a revolutionary expansion of educational opportunity for the poorest and most historically marginalised among us. Public Assistance recipients continue to benefit from steady increases in their monthly payments as the government works to strengthen the social safety net for our poor and elderly Vincentians. New and expanded legal protections are on the verge of enactment for our domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly women.
As prime minister, Comrade Ralph has initiated some of the most visionary and transformative capital projects ever undertaken in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. First among these is our new international airport, which is already generating measurable economic benefits for our country. He has also spearheaded a number of strategic alliances with both private and governmental investors to galvanise local economic development in both the public and private sectors.
These initiatives include funding for several hotel projects — Sandals, Mills Basin, Marriott, Holiday Inn and Canouan Marina. On the regional and international stages, Comrade Ralph has moulded our nation into a force to be reckoned with; under his leadership, St. Vincent and the Grenadines currently chairs the regional Caribbean Community (CARICOM) group of nations, and will chair the United Nations Security Council this month — having been elected a year ago to represent the Latin American and Caribbean region on the Council. (St. Vincent and the Grenadines also made history in that election by becoming the smallest nation ever to secure a seat on the Security Council).
The Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Everad Gonsalves has dedicated his entire working life to public service. As an eminent counsellor at law and scholar of jurisprudence, he has practiced extensively before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in a wide range of matters, but particularly in the fields of constitutional and criminal law. Following his election as leader of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) in 1998, he successfully led the party to victory in elections three years later and has remained at the helm as prime minister ever since, having prevailed in the subsequent elections of 2005, 2010 and 2015.
Prime Minister Gonsalves has earned our universal acclamation as St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ distinguished elder statesman. Throughout his tenure in public life, his efforts have been guided by the twin principles of prudence and enterprise. As he prepares this week to lead his party into what he has promised will be his final electoral battle, he has earned the right to retire in victory. Let us salute his historic record of service, achievement and leadership on behalf of our Vincentian nation by returning him to office with a resounding victory at the polls on Thursday — confident in the knowledge that our ship of state will be safely in the hands of our most capable, qualified and accomplished captain.
*Vaughan Toney is a Vincentian national and social entrepreneur who resides in New York, where he is President and Chief Executive Officer of a leading not-for-profit, community-based organization specializing in high-quality early childhood education and youth programs.
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].