R. Rose
September 7, 2010
Electioneering in SVG

It is now only a matter of time before the Vincentian electorate gets its opportunity to decide on the composition of its next government. But even before it does so, there are contentious governance issues to be resolved. Currently, those relating to the Elections and Boundaries Commission occupy centre stage.{{more}}

Row over increasing seats

At the heart of the row is the proposal to increase the number of seats at stake for the 2011-2015 Parliament from 15 to 17. By itself this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter, but since it will inevitably involve constituency boundary changes, the very outcome of the elections can be at stake. In addition, the court cases bearing on the work of the Elections and Boundaries Commission have now brought governance issues relating to the integrity of the Commission itself to the fore.

We are now in the situation where every sitting of the Commission seems to arouse suspicion and where there are vastly divergent political views as to how to proceed consequent upon the ruling of High Court Judge Gertel Thom. In fact, the two contending forces for the upcoming elections appear to have contradicting interpretations of the implications of Justice Thom’s ruling. Each is therefore seeking to win public opinion as to its version.

These matters should come as no surprise to many of us. They are a direct result of the constitutional arrangements we uphold, arrangements which underpin a winner-take-all political system. Time and again we end up with situation where much depends on the integrity and propriety of the incumbent administration and where even recourse to the Courts alone does not always seem to satisfy the requirements of the time. Parties then often resort to mobilisation of the people, hoping to bring political pressure to bear in support of their own claims. What a pity that we always seem to wait until there is a crisis, or at least a semblance of it, before we are motivated to call for action on such issues! What can we learn from the current situation to motivate us to once more re-examine our constitutional arrangements?

First-past-the-post system

The whole argument about redrawing the constituency boundaries and the possible effect on the results of the general elections, itself raises issues pertaining to the first-past-the-post system that we regard as sacrosanct. Those issues are not going to be resolved before the elections but it is important that, whoever wins the elections, we revisit these discussions and not wait until controversy rears its ugly head and partisanship clouds our view.

Having said this, there is the real issue of the political battle unfolding before us. Clearly, the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) has an uphill struggle if it is to realize its dream of a third successive term in office. This is no easy feat to accomplish at the best of times, and we are certainly not in that favourable situation. True, Prime Minister Gonsalves is a wily and battle-hardened politician, but the luck has not been running his way in recent times. Nearly every major political issue has been giving a propaganda advantage to the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and, in spite of his formidable talents, he must be aware of this. How can the ULP regain the initiative, or at least appear to do so?

The governing party has begun its fightback, armed with the result of the latest poll from respected regional pollster, Peter Wickham. There is no doubt that under normal circumstances, that party has an impressive array of accomplishments to support its quest for re-election. The problem is how to focus on those accomplishments and not to be distracted by what the Prime Minister himself has repeatedly referred to as “side shows”? Ironically, it is the PM himself, who appears to be getting drawn into such distractions. The ULP government, on the eve of a general election campaign, is getting into unnecessary scrapes such as those concerning Otto Sam and before it, Anesia Baptiste. These, in my humble opinion, can only divert attention away from what positive images the party ought to be projecting.

‘Macho’ image

Then, there is this “macho” image being portrayed lately. In the print media, or sections of it to be more accurate, the PM is reported as “declaring war” on his opponents. This even extends to public servants, accused of “sabotage”. Will this do him and the ULP any good, will such a campaign enhance their image? Or is he playing into the hands of his very opponents? This is not what we expect of a statesman and leader. Firmly rebuff lies and slander, if that is the perception, but don’t be dragged down by them.

This brings me to the matter of Dr. Gonsalves’ accusations of “foreign interference in our political campaign. A very serious charge is this, so serious that the prime Minister has appealed to the entire region on this score. According to media reports, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace was supposed to write a response over the weekend. It will be most interesting to hear his defence. Watch this space.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.