Dr. Fraser- Point of View
October 14, 2005

SVG on high political alert

St.Vincent and the Grenadines is in a state of heightened political alert. This has become obvious with the many calls to radio stations about issues related to the voter registration list and from general talk around town. We seem to be breathing and eating politics for it is really in the consciousness of every one, young and old. And remember the election date has not yet been called! The atmosphere reminds me of two other periods, the 1966/67 period when the St.Vincent Labour Party and the People’s Political Party were at their height and 1979 when the UPM appeared on the scene and was able to mobilise the youth and light up the political atmosphere. {{more}}I imagine 1951 might have been similar with the majority of people who had attained the age of 21 being then allowed to vote for the first time. We can, I believe, expect a high voter turn out. The right to vote we have had to fight for. We need to preserve it and use it. In fact, I was looking at scenes of polling in Liberia, and it was clear that after years of problems the people were eager to go and exercise their franchise. They treasured the opportunity.

While there appears to be quite a number of problems with the Voters list what stands out is the enthusiasm of the people and the heightened alert. It could well be that a number of the grievances might be genuine errors and not part of any conspiracy, but persons are taking no chances. They are indicating what they think about those in charge of the process and sending clear signals that they are on the look out. But this issue of voter registration and the voters’ list cannot be seen in isolation for they obviously support the view about the growth of political consciousness. Clearly politics in St.Vincent and the Grenadines will never be the same again. What certainly stands out for this period and the possible impact on the general elections is the use of radio. Everybody seems to be tuned to one or other of the radio stations and many persons organise their days around these talk shows. Even our brethren abroad seemed to have caught the fever.

The biggest guessing game around town now is the proposed date when we will be called to order to carry out our civic responsibility and make one of the most important decisions we will have to make, at least for another five years. Views vary widely, from November to right down to the wire. Only the Comrade knows for sure. Perhaps he will take it to the Lord in prayer! The major problem with a prolonged campaign is that tensions are so high that anything can happen for there are those who function as though their whole life depends on the outcome of the elections. And this might well be so. The days ahead are not going to be easy and we should not allow any of the political actors to tell us otherwise. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy is just around the corner. Bananas are still in a state of crisis. The expectations of our people are growing and the cake is not getting bigger. So something will have to go. When we make that decision of our life we have to take into account the challenges and what or who it takes to meet those challenges. It should really not be business as usual. And of course we have to look beyond ourselves for obviously we will not be allowed to prosper while others struggle to survive. We are all ultimately going to be in the same boat although occupying different places.

The spate of disasters we have been seeing in recent times on our television screens are not new. The weather patterns have obviously been changing. Clearly there are serious environmental concerns and one of the things that have to be put on our agenda is the relationship between the environment and development. These things are not happening by accident and man has to take a great part of the blame for creating many of the imbalances that appear to be upsetting the natural order of things. We are still players but we have to do what we can within our own small sphere of operations. Have we decided how we intend to function in this globalised world? A real test is going to be the functioning of CSME and how we fit into it. I must note that Prime Minister Owen Arthur, the lead spokesman on the CSME visited this country during the week and at least, with the civic organisations provided very useful information on that important subject. With a lot of these serious challenges ahead one has to be critical of the kind of politics we are still practising. Many of our politicians and their sidekicks have not yet graduated out of political commess.

In many ways the people, including the so-called common man, have moved beyond some of our politicians. The difficulties of the times have forced them to wake up to certain realities. I have always been critical of the impact of television and I still am but there is the positive side in that regardless of whether or not we concentrate only on the soap operas we cannot escape happenings in other parts of the world.

We are not blank minds and we internalise some of these things and consciously or not are forced to reflect on them and very often come to a different kind of understanding. Who could have looked at the response to the disaster in New Orleans and neighbouring areas and not begin to ask themselves questions? Remember too, that even the so-called dull and ignorant, ‘they too have their story’.

So we are in different times and how we interpret and respond are critical. I am quite impressed with a lot of the discussions and talk about issues in the society. I do not necessarily agree with a lot of it but what is important is that people are thinking about the issues and speaking out. In the past these voices were not heard. Many feel incapable or dread the idea of putting their thoughts on paper, but with their telephones near to them they feel motivated to speak. This is important and that process once started will not be stopped. It will be transferred to other areas as people develop more confidence and realise the importance of having their say. It is like the 1935 riots. When the man on the street realised that by his actions he had reset the political agenda he was never the same again.

So we are on high alert. A lot of attention has in recent weeks been focused on the electoral list. I am suggesting that the Electoral Office, perhaps the Christian Council or other responsible bodies in the society begin to provide the citizenry with information pertaining to elections, about the process that has to be followed, about offences relative to elections, about conduct expected.

This kind of information should serve us in good stead and prevent us acting out of ignorance.