Our Readers' Opinions
January 29, 2016
Deep-seated distrust, political immaturity

Editor: The reaction of the NDP’s political leader and some of the party’s supporters to the December 2015 elections is disappointing, but it comes as no surprise to me. Our deep-seated mistrust in our own people and the low level of political maturity among our people have in the past acted as the harbinger of this most unfortunate reaction by some of our people.{{more}} They are doing so once again and will do so in the future, unless we address these issues in a serious and systematic manner. Simply blaming one or the other of the political parties and their supporters will not provide the solution for what is now the regular post-election confusion that must be dealt with now, before it mushroom into something more serious.

For several years, I have argued that national elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines are conducted fairly in an atmosphere of freedom. I have had a firsthand view of all the elections conducted in SVG from 1984 to 2015. I worked first as a poll clerk in 1984 and 1989 and as a presiding officer in all the subsequent elections. During this period, there were only two elections (1984 and 2001) whose results were not rejected by the political parties that lost.

The obvious reason is that both of those elections were lost by the political parties under whose administrations the elections were conducted – 1984 (SVLP) and 2001 (NDP). It would therefore have been more than strange for these parties to cry foul.

The SVLP and later the ULP came up with a series of baseless claims, during their period in opposition. They claimed the used of “magical ink” in 1989. The party was “anticipating a 9:6 victory” in the 1994 polls and when the results were announced 12:3, the party promptly filed six petitions to get the results overturned. Needless to point out that the results were never revised. More disturbing was the ULP’s leader’s threat, after the 1998 elections, to make the country ungovernable and his demands for fresh elections within six months! According to him the elections were “riddled with glaring irregularities, fraud, bribery and intimidations…a product of fraud and intimidation!”

We entered a new chapter from 2005, with the NDP replacing the ULP in its rejection of the results of the elections. In that year, the NDP held a protest march. The party claimed that there were “unprecedented levels of irregularities and violation” of the election processes. It threatened to contest the results of the “closely contested seats’’ it lost in the law courts. It never did.

In 2010, the NDP had “picked up scent of cheating” and was looking for “compelling evidence of election rigging” to “aggressively pursue legal and international redress to have the elections dismissed as unjust, undemocratic, and null and void.” The lawyers advised against such a move, but that did not stop NDP and its supporters from crying foul.

Fast forward to 2015, and we have another series of protests and claims. Some of the latter bordering on insanity: “An agent called to say that Mr Exeter won by six votes.” “A lady from Tobago voted, but the lady never left Tobago.” There were “six missing ballot boxes” in Central Leeward. This number was later reduced to one. All these claims ‘turned out’ to be nothing but fabrications. They are still looking for the smoking gun used in the heist!

Perhaps, the most ridiculous, is what is being presented on the airwaves as part of the “body of evidence” to support the theory that the people voted for the NDP, but the ULP stole the election. On election night, two members of NBC’s panel, commenting on the election results, had PREDICTED that the Central Leeward poll was going to be very close; a matter of five to 10 votes, they PREDICTED, should separate the candidates. The panelists were making that PREDICTION on the basis of the information they had before them, that is, the two neighbouring constituencies were won by narrow margins, seven in the case of North Leeward and 19 in the case of South Leeward. Of course, the latter was a mistake, since it was known on the very night that Jomo Thomas had lost the South Leeward constituency by over 100 votes. Yet, this recording of Dr Scott and Mr Wickham is being repeated over the airwaves as part of the evidence to support the claim that the election was stolen. A prediction, an opinion has become FACT for some!

I maintained that under the present system, elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines cannot be stolen on election day! This conclusion is supported by all the observers — local and foreign – that have covered our elections. There are, of course, the routine irregularities, but these are neither in the quantum or of such seriousness as to render any of our past elections null and void!

The truth is that the deep-seated mistrust that we have in our own people and the political immaturity of most of our citizens have facilitated these ridiculous reactions from the losing parties in our general elections. These reactions are leading to protests which could one day result in violence and other criminal activities if we fail to act now to avoid such an eventuality!

It is time for us to embark on a structured and coordinated public education programme to reduce the rather high level of political immaturity among our people. Tackling the deep-seated mistrust will present greater challenges to remove or reduce, but it can be accomplished if there is a national approach that places emphasis on our own ability to develop self-mastery and taking and promoting pride in our achievements. Time for us to get the ball rolling before it is too late!

Curtis M King