With his Unity Labour Party (ULP) having lost the popular vote in last Thursday’s general elections — for the first time since 1998 — Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is noting that it is the party with the most seats, and not the most votes that form the government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
His position now, is a reversal of that in 1998, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) was returned to office for a fourth consecutive term, having won 8-7 against the ULP.
Back then, the ULP won the popular vote, garnering some 7,000 more ballots than the NDP.
And, in a July 3, 1998 commentary in The News newspaper, Gonsalves, then deputy leader of the ULP, cited the assertion by his political leader, Vincent Beache
Beache had argued that the NDP, notwithstanding its one-seat majority in the first-past-the-post system, did “not have the consent of the governed since it received only 45% of the popular vote as against 55% for the ULP”.
In his own comments, Gonsalves said:
“All reasonable persons of democratic temper and spirit recognise that a truly functioning democracy demands that consent of the governed, that is, the consent of real flesh-and-blood voters be obtained. Fifty-five percent of the voters have stated unequivocally that they do not want to be ruled by the NDP. The NDP’s slender one-seat majority may, in a narrow legal sense, be legal but it lacks popular legitimacy and moral authority.”
Gonsalves went on to quote Beache, who had said:
“A government which does not possess legitimacy and moral authority cannot be effective nor fashioned and sustained by consensus… Without the consent of the governed, the NDP will only be able to rule through coercion, threats, bribes, victimisation, fear, deception, and farcical manipulation of the country’s democratic institutions. Anyone who does not see all this is either devoid of balanced judgement or blinded by fear and/or partisan politics.”
The final results of Thursday’s election, released by the Electoral Office on Tuesday show that the ULP won nine of the 15 seats, with the remaining six going to the main opposition New Democratic Party.
Supervisor of Elections, Dora James told iWitness News on Tuesday that she did not know when the final figures from the polls would be available.
However, the preliminary numbers show that the NDP garnered 32,829 votes compared to 32,529 for the ULP.
And, speaking at his swearing in last Saturday, Gonsalves appeared to be emphasising the size of the NDP’s majority vote rather than the principle he espoused in 1998.
“Now, it is true that there is a half or so percentage point difference between the political parties but it has to be equally recognised that there is widespread dispersion, scatter, dispersion of one segment of support as distinct from where support is over a larger expanse of territory,” said Gonsalves, who dubbed himself the “political world boss” and “five star general” during the election campaign,
Gonsalves, a lawyer, said it has also has to be recognised, “more than anything else, that there are 15 individual elections in something which we call general elections”.
He said that this is why the governor-general directed the supervisor of election in respect of writs for 15 individual constituencies.
“We have a constituency-based democracy and the founding fathers in our constitution so conceived it and thought that that is the best way to have stable government,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that there is the strict proportional representation model, adding that an extreme case is Israel, “where there is a confusion on an on-going basis after there is an election and there is several months’ hiatus where people are seeking to cobble together a government”.
The prime minister noted the 2009 constitution, which, among other things, offered a model that included a mixture of the proportional representation and first-past-the-post systems.
“It will be recalled that we campaigned very strongly for this in the referendum and the opposition rejected it so that they have no moral authority or political authority to address the question of a proportional representational system as preferable to a first-past-the-post,” Gonsalves said.
Because we had seven years of debate on that and the people spoke and the people said by rejecting our proposal, including that that they would like the first-past-the-post system to remain with 15 independent elections taking place on the same day.
“And that is what has just happened, so that I would like, as I put my hand out in friendship that it be known that it doesn’t mean that by putting my hand out in friendship that I must bury my head in the sand about many fundamental truths about this amazing democracy which we have and which has just produced the result it has produced.”