August 27, 2010
Gearing up for election battle

Fri, Aug 27, 2010

The country moved one step closer to the much-anticipated general elections, which must be held by March next year, with the disclosure by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves last Sunday that he had come to a decision as to the date on which the election will be held. Though, in typical politicking style, he did not disclose the date, with the life of his administration coming to an end, there are not many options left.{{more}} The prerogative of an incumbent Prime Minister to call an election at his whim and fancy is one of the privileges of our current Westminster constitution. Ironically, the proposal to remove this power from the hands of the prime minister, and to go for a fixed date, is one of the casualties of the rejection of the proposed new Constitution in the referendum of November 2009.

By rejecting the new Constitution, Vincentians opted to have the prime minister retain this power, which successive leaders have sometimes reduced to absurdity, including claims of having been advised by the Almighty. It continues to leave the electorate in a state of uncertainty, which certainly does nothing positive in relation to stability and productivity in the country.

So we are left with between three and six months of intense campaigning. Given the divide between the two parties, in government and in opposition, one can expect a bitter and heated exchange in the run up to the poll.

The buoyancy exhibited by Dr. Gonsalves at his party’s rally on the weekend may well have been dampened just a couple days later when the High Court upheld an injunction filed by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in a bid to prevent publication of the Constituencies Boundaries Commission Report. This report must be published before the number of constituencies can be increased from 15 to 17, following Parliament’s passage of legislation to that effect in March of this year. The ruling of Justice Gertel Thom can very well derail plans to add the two new constituencies, since, with the substantive matter of the NDP’s objection to the increase, not having yet been heard, time for the adjustments necessary may not be available before the end of the life of the current administration.

The Court ruling is one of a series of setbacks suffered by the governing ULP in recent months. These place even greater pressure on the party to achieve its ambition of a third straight term in office, a feat only achieved here before by the NDP. Conversely, hopes among the NDP continue to rise with each setback suffered. This leads some pundits to speculate that Dr. Gonsalves may have to go “right to the wire”, that is, utilize the maximum time in office constitutionally possible, meaning a 2011 election. Dr Gonsalves’ comment last Sunday that the elections are sooner than the Opposition may think doesn’t square with that thinking, though, or perhaps that comment was just a red herring.

It is vital that at this juncture in our history, the issues in the election be the substantive ones relating to the governance of our country, the economic and social policies of the respective parties, the critical matters of leadership, vision and developmental perspectives. Too often we tend to lose these in the maelstrom of personal and petty issues and put a lot of other considerations before that of our commitment to build a just, free, prosperous society.