Further progress towards restoration of normality in social life following the recent elections is being made in spite of the stubbornness of some some who refuse to come to grips with the new reality and who seem to believe that only further strife can bring progress to our country.
A new Cabinet of Ministers has been sworn in, new senatorial announcements have been made, on both sides, and a new Head of the Public Service Commission to succeed Cecil ‘Blazer’ Williams has been named.
Of particular interest is the naming of two young women, Ms. Ashelle Morgan as Senator and proposed Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and a big surprise in Ms. Keisal Peters as Senator and Junior Minister in the office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Foreign Affairs. The opposition NDP has also appointed a young woman, Ms.Shevern John, who only narrowly lost to new Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel in the election for the North Windward seat, as Senator on the opposition benches. I offer my heartiest congratulations to all of these appointments, which augur well for increasing female presence in the House.
Yet, in spite of these developments, it seems that for some people the electoral contest is not over, even though the Opposition has named its two Senators in the persons of Mr Israel Bruce and Ms. John. It is as though that some know no other way but continuous confrontation and confusion.
But what do the election results signify? It is important for both sides and for the country as a whole that there is an honest assessment of the outcome of the recent poll if we are to correctly plot the way forward and not continue to dwell in self-delusion.
The 9 seats to six victory of the ULP may not represent the share of the popular vote which went to the NDP by a narrow 50.5% to 49.5% over the ULP. But that is what one gets in the first-past-the-post system heavily favoured by the NDP in the referendum of 2009. Under this system, it is possible for a party to win very heavily in three constituencies, come very close in 12 others, gain the most votes overall but lose the elections 12-3. That’s why there’s the old warning, “be careful what you ask for…” We shall return to this point later.
ULP – time for sober reflection
Up until the eve of the election, the ULP insisted that it would win by a large majority, (“We want all de seats on de mainland”, was the cry). Though it gained one seat by the narrowest of margins, it suffered big drop-offs in almost every other constituency, including some of its strongholds. It must ask itself, “Wey cause dat?”
Undoubtedly there were a number of factors, neglect by Parliamentarians, attitudes on the part of both Ministers and others close to the throne, greed on the part of some main supporters who tried to hog the show and so deprive genuine needy persons of assistance sought. There was also a factor underplayed by the ULP in terms of political fatigue after almost 20 years in office. The Opposition slogan “We fed up ah Ralph” had some resonance among sections of the electorate.
There were also some negatives arising from the ULP’s needless and fruitless battles on some issues such as its ongoing rift with the Teachers Union, a normally solid ally of a party of the working people and other issues blown out of proportion to their importance. It must learn from these.
The wizened leadership of the veteran Ralph Gonsalves again proved to be the ULP’s main asset, underlying his critical importance to his party’s fortunes. Worryingly, his choices as possible successor, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar and Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, both suffered setbacks, though holding on to their seats. In addition, another of the seemingly favoured choices, Luke Browne, not only lost once again but lost to a newcomer.
What does this portend for the future? The party has to think long and hard and avoid jumping into knee-jerk reactions in showering praises on newcomers, no matter the seeming promise. And, it must get back to the thankless but vital task of party-building.
The ULP, given its record, should have performed much better. In spite of the diatribe of its detractors, it has an impressive record of achievement. The problem is that we often forget that expectations continue to rise with each step forward. Every step up the ladder makes people less complacent and more demanding. We can no longer be taken for granted and no amount of chest-thumping can substitute for the desire to have ambitions fulfilled.
Yet, in addition to its formidable leader, the ULP has been able to project a shared vision on which to base its programmes and policies. It is essential that that vision be shared among wider sections of the people and that the political education, of the young people in particular, go hand in hand with the advancement of the Education Revolution. If we don’t we will stumble at the sight of any seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Political education is as much a necessity for transformation as any academic, technical, technological or professional training. We cannot transform the society without it.
THE NDP – NEXT
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.