December 16, 2005
Election is much closer than appears

President of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace, in an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT’s reporter Hawkins Nanton last Wednesday morning, shared some views on the future of his party. This is a condensed version of the interview.

Q: Mr. Eustace, what are your reflections on the December 7, 2005, General Elections? {{more}}

A: First of all the margin of victory by seats some may say it is a big one, 12 seats to three, but when you look at the details, the election is indeed a close one and a combined total of 74, 75 votes more would have given the NDP three additional seats, and a combined total of 574 more votes in certain constituencies would have given us the government. So I think the election is much closer than it appears when you just look at seats but that happens in the First Past the Post System.

You remember that in 1998 we got 45 per cent of the votes, yet we got eight seats. This time we’ve got 45 per cent of the votes again and we have three seats. So the margin of victory in terms of the voters was not that large. It was a very close election in that context. I have also expressed that there are a number of serious irregularities and we are looking into those, but I think the elections results indicate an improvement in the position of the New Democratic Party in terms of the votes cast as against the ULP which is having a decline.

Q: You retained your East Kingstown seat by a larger margin this time than you had scored in the 1998 and 2001 General Elections. What do you think were the reasons for your success?

A: Let me put it this way: a tremendous amount of money was spent in East Kingstown by the ULP. A lot of money! I was aware through my constituents who often called me to say what they had received and in cases when I went to their homes they would show me what they had received. And in some cases they would call me first to ask whether they should accept and I never said no because if they needed galvanize, I don’t have any problem. So I always said go and in some instances people even asked me to help them with the transportation for the goods that they received and I helped them. But I always felt and one thing in my campaigning I tend to operate almost like a loner in most cases. I’ll pass in an area not just at the elections time. I’ll pass in an area in my constituency and I’ll just go and visit 15 and 20 houses and talk with people, not necessarily about politics, in a lot of instances, about a lot of other things that concern them in their lives. I don’t say, “I want you to vote for me.” I want people to get to know me and make their judgment based on what they know about me, the way I live, the way I function and so forth.

During the particular campaign I had a particular difficulty that as leader of the party I have to do house-to-house campaigning, not only in East Kingstown but in lots of other areas. That subtracted or infringed on the time I had for East Kingstown and I was concerned about that. But in the latter stages, close to the polls, I got quite a bit of housework done in areas that I regard as critical in the constituency. I was not able to cover all the houses but in the new area that is added to my constituency I think I covered substantially all of the homes in that area. I think my whole approach to campaigning and the attitude of my opponent contributed greatly to my success.

I did better this time despite much more being arraigned against me. I actually got four times the total I got in the margin I won in 2001. I think that is a manifestation of the confidence that the people in East Kingstown have in me as a person and as a politician and most of all I think they know I am willing to assist whenever I can, that I will not fool them.

Q: What are projections as to the way forward for the New Democratic Party?

A: We have not done a full evaluation of the elections results as yet. I’m going to lay off from that until January. After the march this evening, we’ll just let people deal with their Christmas. Of course we’ll be doing our analyzing in the interim to make a determination how we go forward on the legal front, but let people get back to their normal life. It has been a long campaign. We started our campaign since April and I think the business community has been affected negatively by the campaigns, whether it’s small business or big business. We will let that settle down for a while and then in the New Year we will be dealing with a number of matters.

It will be a difficult time, most likely in January. It will be a very difficult time and we’ll have to prepare ourselves to deal with that.

Q: You have contested two General Elections and were unsuccessful in clinching the government. Do you intend to contest another General Elections as leader of the New Democratic Party and Area Representative for the constituency of East Kingstown?

A: We have changed our constitution and the leader is elected every three years. So I will contest the leadership whenever it comes up again. It will come up one more time before we have another elections.

Q: What plans will be initiated to continue strengthening the New Democratic Party?

A: We still have a lot of work to do on the youth front at the organizational level. We have in fact appointed a Youth Development Officer. We are going to put more emphasis in that area. And generally the party organization at the constituency level, we will be working on that.

Q: What will you pinpoint as the major challenges confronting the New Democratic Party?

A: I will not describe it as major challenges. I think what we need to do is to continue to consolidate our party, continue to work on its organizations. I don’t think there is much need for any more changes in structure but to

keep involved and active will require having a constant action programme in the party and this is what we intend to do.

Q: How does the New Democratic Party intend to make a smooth transition between the old guard of the party and the youth?

A: In our party we have a number of people who are just over 40 and under, so in terms of candidates in the elections we had a relatively youthful group. I expect that one or two others will emerge during this period going forward. I believe that we have made quite a lot of change in terms of what you refer to as the old guard. There is nobody from the real old guard who was a candidate this time. Some of them assisted in the works for the elections, which I think, is necessary. The only candidates who had ever contested an election before are Linton Lewis, Patel, myself, Terrence Ollivierre and Dr. Friday, all the others were contesting for the first time.

Q: What do you hope to achieve from your protest tonight (Wed. 14) and how effective do you think it will be?

A: What we want to do tonight is to bring ever more starkly to the public, the irregularities that took place in the election. I really believe that the irregularities that we had in this elections were unprecendented for St.Vincent and the Grenadines. A lot of it stems from the fact that all the appointments at the Electoral Office were done by the members of the government and not the Supervisor of Elections. It was too much of a partisan elections or elections of sort. I think this relates to a perception in the country that the Electoral Office and its procedures were dominated more by politics than by the nature of free and fair elections.