Eye of the Needle
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
July 1, 2022
Lessons from Grenada elections

Parliamentary elections in the Commonwealth Caribbean are closely followed not just by the voters in the country holding the elections but also by voters in neighbouring countries. The results are subjected to scrutiny in the rest of the region and interpreted according to such criteria as political preferences, perceptions about political leadership and even ideological affiliations, real or imagined.

In the case of the most recent elections, held last Thursday in Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, the ideological factor was not a major determinant, either for Grenadians or for the rest of the region. After all, the contending parties, the New National Party (NNP) of defeated Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of the victorious new Prime Minister Hon. Dickon Mitchell, were once part of a political graft engineered by our own late Sir James Mitchell.

This came in the aftermath of the US invasion of our sister country and its return to Westminster-style parliamentary elections.

Remember how Sir James was fond of reminding us what a great agronomist he was.

He applied those grafting skills to Grenadian politics.

Having provided this background, this column joins with the rest of the region in congratulating the young Grenadian leader on what can only be hailed as a magnificent achievement and in wishing him, his party and the Grenadian people all the best in the post – Keith Mitchell era.

Dr Mitchell had earned for himself much acclaim as a titan of electoral politics, not only for his longevity and resilience, but also for the unprecedented feat of making a clean sweep of seats at the polls on not just one, or two, but on three separate occasions. Whatever one may think of him, his politics or accomplishments as leader of his country, there is no decrying this enormous feat.

In addition, the Grenadian people, electoral officials and those charged with responsibility for national security must be highly commended for the
peaceful conduct of the elections. Even the counting of the ballots and the declaration of results were conducted in a timely and efficient manner leaving little room for the controversy and suspicion which plague many elections in the region.

As for the result itself, there may not be many outside of Grenada and its Grenadine islands who would have foreseen such an upset. The new P.M. Mitchell is himself a newcomer to politics, inheriting a deeply divided opposition, badly mauled, successively, at the polls. While there were reports of a yearning for change in the electorate, few could have conceived of the genius of the “triple sweep”, being swept aside in that manner.
What could have been responsible for this humiliating defeat of Keith Mitchell’s NNP in such a dramatic upset? The analyses and post mortems are ongoing but it would be difficult to escape the conclusion that the electorate must have grown tired of the protracted period in office of Dr Mitchell. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt and Dr Mitchell’s longevity must have tended to lend itself to complacency and an underestimation of the will of the people.

The Keith Mitchell administration was widely considered by international financial institutions as being among the “better ones” in the region, following the orthodoxy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its prescriptions while also subscribing to the sale of passports as a fund-raising measure.

But Grenada did not escape the fate of the rest of the region, especially in the current circumstances of rocketing prices and major economic difficulties.

Those who touted the Keith Mitchell “miracle” as a solution have some hard re-thinking to do.

Perhaps Dr Mitchell may have begun to discern among the changing electorate a clamour for change, and in desperation called a snap election to try and head off the inevitable.

Unfortunately the present economic climate is a disastrous background for any government to face the polls. Whether it is government’s fault or not, the woes will be heaped at the feet of the incumbents, and re-election in such circumstances can spell political suicide.

The yearning for change, especially among younger voters, Dr Mitchell’s reliance on the NNP’s old guard without a clear succession plan, and the “breath of fresh air” politics of the young Mitchell, all contributed to the closing of the door on the Grenadian electoral champion and he must now be prepared to ride out in the sunset.

As for the future, the freshness of the campaign and the manner in which Dickon Mitchell handled his first such challenge, will buy him much political credit. However, a “nice” image alone cannot compensate for sound policy and one cannot envy the new Prime Minister as he seeks to confront the formidable hurdles in his way.

There are forces inside Grenada and without, who would attempt to take advantage of political inexperience for their own advantage to the detriment of the Grenadian people. It is perhaps fortuitous that the young leader will get early exposure to his regional colleagues at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference this weekend. He should take advantage of this early exposure.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.