The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has welcomed Governor-General Dame Susan Dougan’s advice to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves that he lead an inclusive government.
However, the party’s president, Godwin Friday, said in a national address Wednesday night that the prime minister’s response suggests that he is unwilling to heed the call.
Friday said that Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) has become a minority government in its fifth term in office, having lost the majority vote, even as it now controls nine seats in the 15-member parliament, one more than in its fourth term.
“This minority government has resulted notwithstanding the widespread exploitation of state resources by the ULP to influence voters and the widespread buying of votes in key constituencies,” Friday said.
“Clearly these circumstances, including the meagre margins of the results at the recent polls and the unfavourable decisions in the final count in North Leeward, which gave the seat to the ULP candidate, cast a dark and growing shadow over the legitimacy of the new ULP government.”
He noted that at Gonsalves’ swearing in ceremony last Saturday, the Governor-General expressed her intention to support all and urged Gonsalves as prime minister to be inclusive in the way he governs.
“That is welcome advice. If nothing else, it should remind Dr. Gonsalves that after taking office, he should not continue with the politics of divide and rule, of victimisation based on partisan politics, and with the immoral exclusion of over half of our people from constructive engagement in the processes of governing and from sharing the benefits of our nation’s resources,” Friday said.
“Regrettably, from his responses, including references to ‘a cock-eyed notion of democracy’, and the blatantly false suggestion that he has always sought ‘to include the opposition at all levels’, there is little hope that this advice will be followed,” Friday said.
In his response to the governor-general at the ceremony, Gonsalves said:
“I have always sought to put my hand out in friendship and to include the opposition at all levels. Of course, there has to be recognition, always, that the reason why we are in government is because we won more seats and, therefore, it would be a cockeyed notion of democracy for anyone to think that by having a government that it must submit its agenda to those whom, when there was an argument, a discussion, different options put to the public and the public, the electorate chose one particular perspective and the perspective which they chose, the overall strategic direction is that offered by the Unity Labour Party and its leadership.”
Friday said that the circumstances in SVG demand hope, in all its aspects.
“And we will, by all proper means, at our disposal ensure that the majority voice of the people which the NDP now represents will not be silenced or marginalised. We will be heard and will insist on shaping the direction of our country’s future.”
He spoke of “the worsening cyst which continues to fester in our body politic.
“That is, Dr. Gonsalves and the ULP government’s continuing disregard for the rights of the three NDP teachers who contested elections in 2010 and his spiteful refusal to ensure that they receive from government what our court has said they are entitled to.
“On behalf of the majority of the people and my great party, I call on Dr. Gonsalves and the ULP government to end its ongoing victimisation of these patriotic Vincentians and obey the judgment of the court,” Friday said.
He said that in replying to the governor-general’s exhortations to be inclusive, Dr. Gonsalves “basically confirmed his intention to continue along the path of division and exclusion that he followed over the years”.
Friday said this is a far cry from the stance which Gonsalves and the ULP adopted in 1998, when his party won the popular vote and the NDP won the majority of the seats.
“At that time, they argued that:
‘The ULP acknowledges that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has a first-past-the-post electoral system and that in a narrow legal sense, the NDP has the right to be called upon to form the government for the time being. But politics and good governance have always been more than narrow legalisms. A truly functioning democracy demands that the 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’” Friday said.
“At that time, the ULP called for dialogue with the NDP aimed at working out an interim arrangement pending fresh elections, which they proposed should take place within six months. They appealed to the Christian Council, the Chamber of Commerce and other social partners to act as brokers in the negotiation process.
“But when Ralph Gonsalves became leader of the ULP in December 1998, he refused any form of co-operation with the NDP government, not even to attend official functions, including the welcoming of a foreign head of state and the ULP vowed to make the country ungovernable.
“This situation led to the so-called ‘road block revolution’ and ultimately to the shortening of the constitutional term of the NDP government,” Friday said.
“This historical experience is useful for context and consistency,” he further stated.