December 2, 2011

St. Lucia elections – Lessons for us all

Fri, Dec 2. 2011

Our congratulations go out to Dr. Kenny Anthony and his St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) for their victory at the polls on Monday of this week. Though the final results were not available at press time, Dr. Anthony has already been sworn in as Prime Minister.{{more}} He previously occupied this position from 1996 to 2006, before the return of the late St. Lucian founding father, Sir John Compton, to active politics. Compton galvanised electoral victory for his United Workers Party (UWP) and demoted Anthony to the Opposition benches.

It represents a remarkable comeback for the Labour Party for, unless there are exceptional circumstances, Caribbean voters tend to give any party elected to office at least two terms. In addition, Dr. Anthony was personally blamed for Labour’s defeat in 2006, and there were even public calls for him to give up the leadership of the SLP. He has weathered the criticism, stayed the course and has returned, chastened and seemingly humbled by his experiences and, hopefully, wiser as well.

He gave an indication of this in his post-election speeches, avoiding the triumphalism and urging his supporters to be moderate in their celebrations and to do so with dignity. Dr. Anthony also publicly acknowledged that no single party, victorious at the polls or not, could by itself guarantee the social and economic progress of the country and therefore urged all to work together for the good of the nation. Significantly, he declined to follow popular political practice in the Eastern Caribbean in declaring the day following general elections a public holiday, for “wine and dine”. Difficult challenges are ahead, said the new Prime Minister, and all should get to work on them from Day One.

That is one example that neighbouring countries would do well to emulate. Our entire electoral process has been cheapened by this sense of bacchanal on every occasion. Political rallies are attended and remembered more for their entertainment value than for their content. We celebrate election night and sometimes for days afterwards, as though the election itself has solved our problems. This is in spite of all the talk of how much work lies ahead. Our actions give lie to our words and we often succeed in conveying the wrong message. Dr. Anthony has started on a positive note in this regard.

All the economies of the Caribbean countries, oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago included, are under serious strain. Some, heavily indebted, are in more critical state than others, but we all are in deep water. This reflects the current crisis of global capitalism, which was not too long ago boasting of its triumphs. Intrinsically linked to the world economy, our efforts alone cannot bail us out, much depends on what happens in those countries to which we are closely tied economically, in North America and Europe in particular. Yet our practices and actions do not reflect the gravity of the situation confronting us. Our governments must sum up the courage to lay bare the truth and let us know recovery calls for hard work (an increasingly outmoded term) and much sacrifice.

That is the situation facing St. Lucians. They have had their fair share of trouble, with the global economic crisis impacting the vital tourism industry and negative trading agreements threatening to decimate the banana industry, the lifeblood of the rural economy. In fairness to outgoing Prime Minister Stephenson King, St. Lucia has not done too badly, even though the worsening economic situation was exacerbated by natural disasters. Indeed even right after elections, heavy rains have again caused major infrastructural damage on the west coast.

King’s UWP lost because of its internecine battles following the tragic death of Sir John Compton. The party descended into a quagmire of selfishness, self-aggrandisement, corruption, lack of respect for its leader and the St. Lucian people, in short, plain bad governance. It is a poignant lesson for all of us in the region, which we would do well to heed.