By Ronnie Daniel
The 2020 general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will possibly be remembered as the most electrifying in recent history despite the coronavirus restrictions.
On the one hand, the platforms of both political parties were laced with locally-composed, jab-throwing and nail-biting songs that provided the stimulus that energised their bases. Artistes sympathetic to the parties skilfully used humour, sarcasm, and idioms to call out their opponents and to indicate why their party was the best and, thus, will win the general elections. On the other hand, the fact that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was seeking an unprecedented fifth term and the New Democratic Party (NDP) trying to unseat it, created much anxiety among party faithful and candidates. The hype was undoubtedly intense but nonetheless provided much entertainment, laughter and may have caused some to recline in curious disbelief.
But, there is a more important historic fact that we cannot escape: the Gonsalves-led ULP, having won the 2020 general elections nine seat to six to the NDP, will go down in the annals of history as the first political party in the English-speaking Caribbean to have won a fifth consecutive term in the post-independence period. For a less delightful reason, the NDP will also make history. It will go on record as having lost five consecutive general elections even though it won the popular vote. What happens next for these political parties will certainly be determined by their interpretation of the results of the elections and how much sense they make of them. What is clear however, is that both parties will have to provide critical answers to the WHY, WHAT, WHEN, and HOW questions of their successes and losses.
Inherent in these basic facts, however, are multiple stories about leadership, political parties, candidates, and electors and what concerns them most. Evidently, there is a national swing away from the ULP towards the NDP. That tells its own story, no matter how large or small the margin. Both leaders are keenly aware of this. Indeed, the greater part of Dr. Gonsalves’ victory speech on Nov. 6 was spent rationalising why his party lost the popular vote and what is now required to re-gain national trust. Similarly, on Nov. 11, NDP Leader Dr. Godwin Friday, indicated in his speech, that the people have voted for change and that his party intends to make that change a reality.
But what does all this mean for “we the people” and our quality of life? Can “we the people” hold the political parties and their leaders to the commitments they have made during these elections? Where are the grassroot platforms and mechanisms to do so? With the near absence, if not death, of mass organisations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that can mount considerable and sustainable moral and political influence on the citizenry, the political parties are left unrestrained. Even where there are constitutional checks and balances in our political system, practically speaking, the executive remains largely unchecked, as there are no real consequences, except at the polls, for a Government/party that violates its contract with the people. A comfortable majority is all it takes to block deeper scrutiny of the government.
Therein lies one of the major flaws of the Westminster system as adopted by these Islands — the disconnect between those who govern and the governed. It is this inability to “check” the Government and political parties that fuels a serious lack of accountability and transparency in our political culture. There is, therefore, a danger embedded in this weakness. A government that spends an inordinate number of years in power can entrench political practices and behaviours that normalise corruption, nepotism, and patronage that are counter-productive to national interests and the real needs of the people.
In such a context, it may be difficult to reverse these tendencies particularly after a lifetime in power. Equally dangerous is a party that spends a long time in opposition. It can become complacent, tired, and eventually lose its focus especially if it does not refresh itself. Thus, while longevity in government and opposition does provide a sense of stability and may be good in certain circumstances, it may also be a primary source of institutional and national inertia. In other words, as things change, it does certainly appear that they can easily remain the same.
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].