There has been much reference to what the Unity Labour Party (ULP) said in its post-election statement of 1998, when it won the popular vote but the New Democratic Party won the majority of seats and was returned to Parliament for a fourth consecutive term.
The nation has been reflecting on this 22-year old statement since the ULP was returned to office on Nov.5, for a fifth consecutive term in office and the NDP won the majority vote.
For those who are interested in historical accuracy or even those wanting to know exactly what was said then, I submit the following for your consideration.
Yours in nation building,
A crisis in governance and the demand for fresh elections in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
By The Honourable Vincent Beache, political leader of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
THE CRISIS IN GOVERNANCE
There currently exists in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines a crisis in governance consequent upon the holding, and the results, of the general elections on Monday June 15, 1998. This crisis can only be resolved by the holding of new elections.
The crisis manifests itself in the following specific conditions:
- Prime Minister Mitchell’s predicament which led him in the first place to seek a renewed mandate has been compounded. The electorate have now demonstrated through the popular poll that they reject Mitchell and the NDP. Further what little credibility the Government had in regional and international circles prior to the elections, has been eroded drastically.
- Widespread electoral irregularities, and even fraud, on and before election day, have vitiated the results of the six seats which the NDP allegedly won on mainland Saint Vincent, particularly the marginal seats such as East Kingstown, North Windward, South Leeward and South Central Windward. The election results show, for example, that East Kingstown was “won” by 27 votes and North Windward by 58 votes by the NDP.
The official results left the NDP with 23,285 of the popular votes to the opposition Unity Labour Party’s (ULP’s) 28,052. This means that the long-standing Mitchell government received 4,794 less votes than the challenging ULP.
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 per cent of the voters have stated unequivocally that they do not want to be ruled by the NDP. The absurdity of the minority NDP government has been made further farcical by the appointment of two of the defeated candidates in the elections, Dr. St Clair Thomas as Minister of Health, and Mr. Carl Joseph as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
When Prime Minister James Mitchell’s announced the elections for June 15, 1998 on May 18, 1998 his New Democratic Party (NDP) administration had been in office for three consecutive terms and 14 continuous years. About one year still remained to run before the current term ended and elections became due in St Vincent and the Grenadines,
Mitchell now claims victory in 8 seats, saying that the ULP won 7 seats. In East Kingstown, North Windward, South Leeward and South Central Windward constituencies there were widespread incidence of electoral irregularities.
The Prime Minister has since been sworn in for a new administration and nine other members of his Cabinet have also been sworn in on Wednesday June 17.
When these elections were called, the NDP enjoyed a substantial majority in the Parliament, 12 seats, against the opposition Unity Labour Party’s three seats. However Prime Minister Mitchell clearly wanted to obtain a new mandate from the electorate at home and also to shore up his own sagging image and that of his administration in regional and international circles where it mattered. Particularly so among traditionally friendly governments viz. the USA and Britain and with multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies from which his government must seek and obtain the resources to tackle successfully the grave social and economic problems with which beset the multi island state, with a population of over 110,000.
In the first two of those seat, the margin of claimed victory was 27 and 58 respectively and in the other two 103 and 109 respectively — in each case far less than the number of votes that were lost due to administrative errors, fraud, intimidation and corruption
The ULP claims to have won 11 seats, and is currently researching and documenting the abuse of the electoral process as done by the NDP.
Both before election day and on election day itself there was massive fraud, intimidation, and corruption. Six basic schemes were used:
1. People who live in strong NDP constituencies such as the Grenadines, which is controlled by Mitchell, were falsely registered to vote in swing constituencies. On election day they voted in places where they do not reside.
2. In other mainland seat where the NDP had no chance of winning, NDP voters changed their voter registration falsely, in order to vote in swing constituencies.
3. A voter information card was placed inside the majority of voting booths showing people how to vote — those sheets encouraged people to vote for a symbol that looked very similar to the NDP symbol.
4. Registered and legal voters supporting the ULP, when they went to vote, were turned away and denied their right to vote since all of a sudden they were “not on the list”.
5. NDP activists who were mostly senior public service officials were posted at doors and intimidated voters as they approached the polls.
6. Voter registration during the 15-day special registration period following the issuance of the election writs, was made difficult or impossible in swing constituencies — a system hurting the ULP since young new voters overwhelmingly support the ULP.
The ULP has already documented these problems in scores of instances in four constituencies. Over one dozen sworn affidavits have already been taken.
The leader of the ULP Mr. Vincent Beache said it would not accept the results and called for a new poll within six months. Beache alleged voter intimidation, fraud and bribery and said the NDP lacked the moral right to govern.
“…We of the ULP want to make it clear that we refuse to concede any election victory to the NDP because this so-called victory is a product of fraud and intimidation.”
He demanded further that “…We therefore call on the Mitchell government to commence a process immediately to prepare for fresh elections in order that the machinery be established to ensure a free and fair election.”
Mitchell dismissed the ULP statement as “nonsense” and said he hoped the opposition would respect the will of the people.
“… The elections were free and fair, the democratic process has worked, and I trust that the opposition would want to honour the democratic process and the results,” Mitchell said on state-owned radio.
Continuing unemployment at 45% of the work force, diminishing earnings from the troubled bananas industry, which is the mainstay of the economy, corruption and incompetence in government, as exemplified by the doomed Ottley Hall Marina Project, in which the NDP government guaranteed a loan in excess of $50 million to an Italian shipbuilding firm, for an investment that went busted and where a further $8 million was pumped into another marina project on Union Island in the Grenadines, which was abandoned before completion, the serious escalation in crimes of violence, the persistent evidence that this multi-island state has become a main facilitator of trafficking in illegal drugs and many other social and economic problems, have led to a veritable crisis in governance under the NDP regime over recent years.
To compound matters, the new government which has been installed in the circumstances of these inconclusive results, will be paralyzed by a relatively powerful opposition over which it has numerically a mere one seat advantage in Parliament. If the opposition opts to go into Parliament and function effectively as a loyal opposition it must as a matter of duty hold the government accountable, and seek to realise the popular will as expressed in the elections to remove it from office by Parliamentary mechanisms.
Perhaps the most effective of these is the deployment of the motion for a vote of no confidence in the Government. Such tactics will serve to further destabilise and deepen the crisis in governance which already exists.
It is self evident that such a crisis is not in the best interest of the people of SVG and should not be allowed to continue indefinitely, certainly not for a further term of five years. Prime Minister Mitchell himself had just prior to the elections, expressed his desire to retire from office, indicating that he would remain to contest the elections only because he did not have a suitable successor in his party to take over his responsibilities, in whom the electorate and foreign partners could repose the required level of confidence and trust. Hence the introduction of Mr. Arnhim Eustace the fiscal advisor to his Government to contest for the East Kingstown seat.
Indeed the entire elections result hangs on the outcome of the poll in that constituency. The official results have Mr. Eustace winning by 27 votes over the youngest candidate for the ULP Mr. Michael Hamlet who is a business executive by occupation.
The ULP is claiming that this 27 votes margin could not be sustained, if an election petition was brought to challenge the result in the law courts.
The basis for their claim is that firstly, some voters registered in East Kingstown turned up at the polling stations to vote, presented their identification cards previously issued to them by the Supervisor of Elections for that purpose, only to be turned away by the presiding officials because their names were omitted from the voters list , mainly due to administrative error.
Secondly, many of the voters in the East Kingstown election were illegally registered to vote in that constituency. This was due to the fact that they did not have the residential qualification stipulated under the electoral law. Some of these it is claimed may have been deliberately imported into the constituency and others were included from bordering constituencies, due to administrative errors.
There will always, be relatively speaking, minor illegal or irregular practices in an election based on similar factors; this would ordinarily be tolerated by both sides, especially where the margin of victory is unaffected. However in a contest such as that which occurred in East Kingstown, where the entire elections result hang on a mere 27 votes, these take on critical and decisive significance.
Formal petitions to overturn the official results in this and three other constituencies will be filled in court upon completion of investigations which are ongoing.
However the crisis in governance which now threatens the stability of this small island state, demands an emphatically political and not a judicial resolution, said a spokesman for the ULP.
“… This situation can only worsen under the conditions of these inchoate election results, and drawn out legal proceedings will lead to greater uncertainty and instability….” he said.
Accordingly, the ULP has called for dialogue with the NDP aimed at working out an interim arrangement pending fresh elections, to be held within six months time. The ULP has appealed to the Christian Council of Churches and the Chamber of Industry Commerce as well as to other social partners, requesting that they act as brokers in the negotiation of this transitional scenario. It is proposed that the ULP candidates, who have been declared winners will agree to go into the House of Assembly and function as a Parliamentary Opposition and in doing so, will avoid all tactical efforts to bring down the government, pending the date for the fresh elections.
This proposal has the decided advantage of allowing for a period of respite from intense partisan confrontation and militancy at all levels, on the part of opposition elements. At the same time the country can settle down to the task of preparing for a new poll which will give the people an opportunity to speak in a clearer and more unequivocal voice through the ballot box, as to which party they prefer to govern their affairs over the next five years.
All who appreciate the gravity of the social and economic problems which confront the country today and who have the interest of its people at heart, must see this as a reasonable and appropriate framework within which to mange the current crisis in governance.
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].