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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” March 28, 2024)

“It’s the economy, stupid” is a phrase coined by James Carville in 1992. Carville was a strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 US presidential campaign. His phrase was directed at the campaign’s workers and intended as one of three messages for them to focus on. The others were “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care”. Note that this laser focus took Clinton from the governor of the sleepy southern state of Arkansas to the presidential white house in Washington, DC.

The opposition New Democratic Party may benefit from my free advice and adopt a modified version of James Carville’s call for focus. The party’s failure to recognise that it has a candidates problem has prevented it from entering the corridors of power. To paraphrase Carville, “It’s the candidates, stupid” ought to become the party’s watchwords.

The ULP has gifted the opposition an entree of political goodies to feast on as the elections draw near. Among the issues are high unemployment and underemployment, depressingly low salaries, high cost of living, a vicious tax regime with 16% VAT, a ramshackle civil service and police force, an unprecedented 40% poverty rate, a dilapidated road network and an explosive and frightful crime situation, with burglaries, violence and murder destroying the social fabric that knits the society together. Hopelessness and helplessness abound while fear and alarm stalk the land.

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Even the blind can feel, if not see, that labour, as in the ULP, is not working for the people of SVG. Many persons formerly allied to the governing party increasingly express buyers’ remorse. As a former ULP supporter recently asked me, “How did we allow the vainglorious, pompous and reckless Ralph Gonsalves to fool us for so long?”

The national mood is set for change. The big question is whether the Dr. Friday-led opposition can develop and articulate a developmental narrative that will convince people nationwide that the party is ready to lead and move the country forward after a quarter century in opposition.

The opposition is solid in the six constituencies it holds. It must ask whether it should return to the polls with those six. Underestimating the extent of the devastation, dislocation, disorganisation, disarray, and havoc Gonsalves and his clansmen have caused, it is tempting to think that all that’s needed is for the elections to be called. Wrong! By bitter experience, Vincentians are familiar with the NDP’s bad habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Clearly, then, the issue is more than messaging. A far more critical weakness is the candidates it offers to the electorate. The top three leaders, Dr. Friday, Cummings, and Leacock, are in their twilight political careers and range from 66 to 72 years old. Any serious strategist would offer a younger, educated, and articulate cadre of candidates to fill the vacancies that political common sense or biology are bound to create.

Therefore, no one should be guaranteed the opportunity to run in the upcoming elections except Dr. Friday, Leacock, Cummings, Fitz Bramble, Israel Bruce, and Shevern John. However, the opposition suffers from an outdated political disease that says no winning candidate should be replaced. Patel Mathews, who won by 12 votes in 2015 and lost by one vote in 2020, is a symptom of this illness, which is grounded in the mistaken belief that the candidate is more important than the party machine.

Terrance Ollivierre has plateaued, and Nature Stephenson wins because of the constituency’s demographics and the strength of the party structure in South Leeward. Both politicians would make less-than-stellar contributions in government, as they do in Parliament. That Lavern King remains in electoral exile defies logic.

Three years after the last election, there is no way Kay Bacchus-Baptiste and Bernard Wyllie should be caretakers, much more serious contenders as candidates. In a war of attrition, a time in the distant future may come when both might win. Baptiste and Wyllie present a strong headwind to the party’s election fortunes. Importantly, SVG is confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

The same argument holds for Lavern Gibson-Velox in East St George. Some argue that she did well in 2020, so give her another chance. Wrong, for the following reasons. Ben Exeter did surprisingly well against Louis Straker in 2015. NDPites fancied his chances in 2020, but he lost by an even wider margin. The same thing will happen if Ms Gibson-Velox runs against Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves again. During the last budget, Camillo said the 2024 budget is an East St George budget. The ULP will do everything to ensure that Camilo retains the seat.

Therefore, the NDP’s strategy must be to decapitate the ULP projected leaders, Camillo Gonsalves and Sobato Caesar. Gibson-Velox’s vote count was a mere 11 votes more than the party’s in 2015. It was Camillo’s votes that fell. Whereas he won by 613 in 2015, he scraped through by 192 in 2020. The ULP is going for a sixth term with the political wind against them. All efforts should be made to recruit Akin John, a formidable candidate who is well-liked and has great odds of success. Similarly, young, articulate, forward-looking candidates should be found for the leeward seats.

The NDP leadership needs to take a chapter from Gonsalves’ playbook: No one will be put out to pasture. There is an entire state machinery to staff and run. Under its big tent, there must be a place to care for those who gave way in the interest of the party and the nation.

Once the NDP gets the candidates right, the country’s sad state of affairs presents a political canvas on which the opposition can paint a future of hope, transparency, accountability, and democracy. An overwhelming electoral victory will follow.

*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 opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

8 replies on “NDP’s candidates problem”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    A very intelligent commentary, once more showing that Jomo Thomas’s best work is about what he knows best, namely our national politics.

    Still, regardless of what new candidates the NDP brings onboard, the party is destined to lose again against the ULP machine, a party that is too entrenched, too well funded, too full of attractive new projects, and too brimming with popular candidates to be defeated a mere two years from now by a party with few ideas and low energy.

  2. You must remember the ndp not in control of the electoral house, very difficult to rig, no gate keppets , no money to buy lumbar, galvanise, and other goodies, money in jerseys,, in my opinion, since 2005, the elections were stolen., someone told me that one of their senators told him few weeks before the last election , what would be the result which turn out to be true. Only God alone can deliver us and He will in His own timing. Remember the elderly lady who fell over a bank going to get her share of money?

  3. This is by far the most balanced article I read that Jomo Thomas has researched and analyzed. I trust the NDP is listening. His prediction with respect to some of the constituencies are accurate with respect to East St George and Marriaqua.

    There is no way velox can dethrone Camillo the Comrade Crown Prince in ESG , there are too much at stake for that to happen as Jomo quite accurately stated his analogy with respect to Central Leeward will be Lavern Vellox fate. Forces at work will work to the detriment of the Election of Velox. Money will be available to the crown prince from a certain foreign embassy to make it possible.

    The best chance fir the NDP is Shevorn John, however, this is not a done deal. Potential voters were relocated from the Comrade constituency to Shevorn John constituency by way of the housing scheme. This has the potential to nullify any potential gains made by Shevorn John’s advocacy.

    Lastly I will address the North Leeward enigma, Jomo analysis is bang on . That lead of one vote will increase by over 100 votes. It will no longer be a one vote Carlos. The lack of finding a suitable candidate for NL place into the hands of one vote Carlos. The verdict for the next election is 8/7 in favor of the ULP. In other words it will be six in a row. Friday is seen by many as a wimp by opposing capital punishment. Ralph takes a different stand even it is shambolic. The Geographic structure of WSG makes “Ah want a food to be overthrown. This is reality.

  4. Take warning says:

    Jomo, a friend say to tell you that the NDP candidates is not the problem, they not responsible for the extreme poverty and failures. It’s the ULP is the problem in the country of which you were or are a part of. She said, that you should have stayed in the house and deal with them who are the problem. When you were told that you have me in your craw, what you did,? you kept a dignified silent, so for Heaven sake continue that way and leave the ndp candidates alone. Let them do what they think is best for them. It’s not the candidates, its the stupid, foolish, greedy , extreme poverty people who are just satisfied for lumbar, galvernize ,rum, money in Jersey, and whatever else. My advice is to try and reach the destitute and vulnerable people. It’s the people.

  5. Take warning says:

    De man was accused of saying that he want to eat ah food, de dotish people na mek sure he eating till he belly bugger than he massa own? because me na ge ar yo lumbar, galvanise,
    cement ar yo na vote fo de referendum, so way me do, me go share way those things every election time LOL. and de dotish people go continue vote fo me . IT’S THE PEOPLE. It’s the people.

  6. Magna Carta says:

    Though i respect the comments made. Jomo is in no position to create strategies for the NDP after being made a fool by Ralph with the vote of “No confidence”. Moreover, the youth vote is laughable as Luke Browne the youngest had never won against any of his older rivals, Ralph also pulled back Michelle Fife, David Browne and Pitt bull. Which youth on the ULP has won?

    The NDP currently has 6 winning candidatea with Shevorn John and an excellent potential in Mr. O’garro (based on ground talks). Akin was the front runner who gave way to Velox whi did very well with limited time. Once voters in that constituency votes with the same concience and with the time she had i expect that no amount of dollars can sway those already priviledged people so once again its the sufferers of that constituency who are keeping the country in bondage.

  7. I wonder if Jomo is basing his assertions on real exit polls or is he just sharing an opinion.

  8. TAKE WARNING , I was just wondering if you read over your comment before posting it. If you say that the NDP candidates are not the problem but ULP is the problem. Then ULP will continue to be NDP’s problem thus the same losing result is expected. Then after insulting the destitute and vulnerable people, how to ask them to vote for NDP? Another thing is, the giving away of lumber, galvanize, etc is being criticized strongly but every ruling party does it as far as I can remember. Tell me who refuses material , rum or money? The energy you people put into calling the PM names and trying to pull down everything he does should be put into a strong message to convince the people to vote for a change. There is no message, no mandate, nothing of substance to encourage the people of SVG to elect NDP into Office.

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