By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Sept. 8, 2023)
The Unity Labour Party is readying its party machinery for an early election. Gonsalves’ pattern is to serve the full five years before elections. This year may be different.
Here’s why. Gonsalves is approaching 23 consecutive years in the prime minister’s chair. He has little to lose and even less to prove. The most he is looking for is more bragging rights. As a five-term prime minister, history already has his back. Beyond, since he has proven extraordinarily selfish throughout his career, apart from his son, he cares little for those around him.
Additionally, Gonsalves may fancy his chances if elections were called soon rather than wait for a 2025 poll. His frenzied appearances on radio, visits to construction sites, launch of the Institute of Governance and Politics of Latin America and the Caribbean under the theme “Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders Today”, nomination of Benarva Browne and Shakell Bobb, reactivation of constituency councils and nomination of candidates, attempt to remake the Reparations Committee with a youthful chairman are all intended to set up a campaign of contrast: Me and my youthful team against the grumpy old men of the opposition NDP.
It’s a brilliant strategy for a party vying for its sixth term. There is grave doubt that the public relations gimmick will work, but you can’t blame a leader for trying. One thing is certain, Gonsalves will not bow out without a fight. In fact, he seems to be spoiling for one.
Gonsalves counts on name recognition. Vincentians up to the age of 35 years know only him as the leader. “Big Red” no longer glows but count on him to use and abuse state machinery and resources and buy favours with the ULP’s huge war chest.
But would all of that be enough? Only the most die-hard ULP supporter dismisses the opposition’s chances. As Man Sick said last carnival, after 5 inna row, most ULP supporters have little or nothing to show.
Unemployment is plus 40%, and poverty is back to where it was when the ULP took power in 2001. Crime and violence, especially homicides, are alarmingly high; the police force and civil service are ramshackle, while corruption eats away at the basic fabric of our society. Kingstown has become a laundry. The economic conditions are so dismal that many employed citizens resort to a side hustle if only to make ends meet.
With the country in such a bad state, the opposition should be having a field day. Talk to its major spokespeople, and they are convinced the next elections are in the bag. Unfortunately for the NDP, that road march song, played repeatedly since 2010, never won the “People’s Choice” award. NDP remains the longest-serving opposition party in the Caribbean.
NDP strategists seem not to realise that in politics, as in life, perception is often reality. People can’t just believe you might win. They have to be convinced you will win. If and when a voting population becomes convinced of your chances of success, it throws caution to the wind and swells your ranks, thus guaranteeing a victory.
Grenada’s last elections prove the point. The New Democratic Congress (NDC) moved from an opposition party with no parliamentary seats to a governing party with 9 of the 15 seats.
The NDC selected a new leader. No one is calling for such a change here. Many of the old guard who stuck with the party through lean and dismal times buried their egos and power lust. They supported educated, connected new, vibrant and young candidates who tilted the perception balance.
The NDP could do a similar transformation, but the old guard must realise that elections are about addition. Because the ULP was so battered during the last elections, PM Gonsalves represents the only safe seat for the party. The opposition must remember even though it won the majority vote, the ULP snatched another seat by one vote.
Friday’s moment may be now or never. He should pull his team together and announce that apart from himself, Leacock, Cummings, Fitz Bramble, Shevern John and Israel Bruce, all other constituencies could possibly have new and brighter prospects. Fortunately, the former candidates from North Leeward, Central Leeward and South Windward have thrown in their “political towels”. Real opportunities abound. “One vote” Carlos James is exceedingly vulnerable in North Leeward. Because Brewster won by more than 500 votes, some may think he is impregnable, but he is not. A national swing of between 5 to 8 percentage points spells doom for him. Plain Talk has been reliably informed that the ULP has a solid young prospect for its South Windward candidate. However, with the ULP going for a sixth term, if matched by an equally young bright challenger, the constituency won by 227 votes in 2020 should change political allegiance.
If Kay Bacchus and Wyllie want to give their party a better chance of victory, both should step aside. Anyone but Wyllie should have been the candidate in 2020. This time around, the old guard must understand that one can make serious contributions to people and country without running for elections. If they refuse and the party fails to act forcefully, they dim the party’s attraction bulbs and narrow its window of success.
Nigel Stephenson will win easily, but he should not run. It’s the NDP South Leeward election machine that wins the seat despite Mr Stephenson’s lacklustre parliamentary performance since his election in 2010. The party should run a candidate who, when elected, will help with the heavy lifting of governance. Offer him an ambassadorial post in London, Toronto or New York just as Mitchell did to Carlyle Dougan, which allowed for the emergence of Arnhim Eustace. There is no plausible reason why the polished and accomplished Lavern King should not take over in the Southern Grenadines.
This leaves Lavern Gibson-Velox. She did surprisingly well against Camillo. But so did Dickson against Gustaus, proof that the electorate has developed a solid anti-ULP gaze. Could Gibson-Velox beat Camillo? Hell yes! Will she win the next election? No one knows for sure. For both tactical and strategic reasons, the opposition should ensure that Camillo loses his seat. He is PM Gonsalves’ choice for the next leader. Akin John will roast Camillo in East St George. Moreover, it will offer poetic justice for a son whose father, Stalky John, was outmanoeuvred for the ULP leader position, mocked and defeated by Ralph Gonsalves.
It’s time to break Gonsalves’ disastrous spell on our country. Is the NDP up to the task? We are about to find out.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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].