March 26, 2010
9th Anniversary- Celebration or sober self-reflection?


The governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) will this Sunday celebrate the 9th anniversary of its accession to office with the holding of a mass rally at Rabacca. The occasion will have much more than 9th anniversary significance to the ULP for in normal circumstances, the tenth year, not the ninth, would be the cause of a big slash. But these are not normal times in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, not where politics is concerned.{{more}} The intense rivalry between both Parliamentary parties has resulted in the country being almost in a permanent state of election mode. Additionally, this will be the ULP’s last victory celebrations before the next general elections, constitutionally due before the 10th anniversary date comes around.

Given the intense political rivalry between the contending political forces, there will be much interest in the conduct and success of Sunday’s proceedings, not just from a numbers perspective, but moreso from the non-numerical factors – mood of crowd, body language, crowd response, intensity – all the factors which count in an electoral contest. The defeat of the government-initiated 2009 Constitution in last November’s referendum has heightened speculation as to the outcome of the next elections, and the ULP, much on the defensive of late, will be keen to once more seize the initiative. Sunday’s gathering will be looked upon as a rallying-point for the faithful, a catalyst for regaining lost fortunes.

The choice of the venue is also indicative of the priorities of the current administration and the ULP. Strong rural support provided the basis of the ULP’s successes in both 2001 and 2005. The north-eastern area and the conditions of life of the indigenous people who inhabit much of its northern extremities have been prominent in the plans and programmes of the ULP. The Rabacca Bridge over the Dry River, once considered, quite incorrectly, an unlikely if not impossible project, has huge symbolic importance, and there is no doubt that the party in office will make full use of it.

For the country as a whole, the 9th anniversary ought to be one of stock-taking. The ULP has suffered political setbacks over the past few months, but if truth be told, it has quite an impressive record of achievement over its two terms. It can boast of major social accomplishments, particularly in housing, health and, especially, education. The recently completed Country Poverty Assessment reveals a reduction of not only the level of poverty but significantly, a big drop in the level of the poorest, the indigent poor, from 25% to just under 3%.

Yet the ULP would be foolish to think that this will amount to an automatic re-election. A combination of difficult economic circumstances internationally and failure on the part of many representatives to connect with the people and be seen as trying to meet their needs have resulted in much disillusionment. The sometimes confrontational style of the Prime Minister and the messy handling of some issues have spawned disenchantment and a sapping of confidence in the administration. So it is not simply celebration which must be on the cards, but sober reflection, self-criticism, and humility as well. Is the ULP up to it?