December 16, 2005
Time to move on

With the very competitive and divisive general elections out of the way, we are today left with the two contending tribes struggling to move on, though in markedly different ways.

The incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) has set about naming a cabinet which includes a team of very familiar faces but which will preside over new-look ministries in most cases. Even in victory, that side was so shaken up that Prime Minister Gonsalves has signaled he wants his team to be more responsive to their constituents with regular visits and reports on the team’s activities. {{more}}This comes in direct response to a general feeling that the ULP candidates’ close victories in some constituencies were because of a perceived disconnect from their supporters.

On the other side of the political divide, the challenging New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Arnhim Eustace is still smarting from the results of the people’s verdict. And while on elections night leading NDP candidates seemed to have accepted the loss, Eustace was to come before the country this week to say that his party could have won some eight seats had it not been for “irregularities” at polling stations.

As he had warned prior to the elections, he was now confirming that the elections were not “free and fair,” this, despite the verdict given by elections monitors from the Organization of American States and CARICOM -observers whose presence Eustace himself had been long calling for- that the poll was in fact free and fair.

But the country must move on.

The NDP never accepted or understood the reasons or the forces at play which led to their term of office being curtailed in 2000 with elections being called the following year. They felt cheated and blamed it on the “road-block revolution”. But the hierarchy of the NDP fails, to date, to understand that the roadblocks were only possible because the people in the country had demanded and had in fact voted for change in 1998. Hence it was the ULP’s winning the majority of the popular vote though with a one seat minority which prompted Dr. Gonsalves’ infamous “one is not enough” statement.

The objective conditions that existed then allowed the people to support a shutting down of the country of which the ULP took advantage. That is hardly the case today.

Yes, the NDP support base voted en bloc, just as it did in 1998 and to a lesser extent in 2001. But one expects that, even if there may have been some minimal administrative hiccups during the polls, the legal challenges may only serve to satisfy the lawyers’ egos and result in not much more.

What these challenges offer, however, is an issue around which the NDP’s base can rally. We do not think that the party’s leadership seriously expects to have the results of the people’s verdict overturned. It may well be their strategy as they move forward, buoyed by the party’s increased support to keep their faithful satisfied that they still have some fight in them.

What however, does come to the fore in all of this, is the question of the need for true democratic representation that could only come through constitutional changes. A candidate who loses by say, fewer than fifty votes under our current first-past-the post system, will always feel cheated.

Should that “losing” candidate not have the right to at least have his/her voice heard in a lower house of Parliament? Until we have genuine representation of the wishes of our people as expressed though their vote, there will always be politicians and their supporters feeling cheated following closely fought elections.

But as we said last week, the masses have spoken. It is time to move on.