R. Rose
November 16, 2010
One month to go!

So, after the endless speculation over the date of the next general elections, we at last know it. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has brought the suspense to a close, not without some drama though. In typical political style, the announcement of the date was preceded by massive mobilizations by both political parties last weekend. Indeed, Opposition leader Mr. Arnhim Eustace had attempted to pre-empt the Prime Minister and to steal his thunder, by announcing a December 15 date at a rally of his New Democratic Party (NDP) on Saturday night. He was two days wide of the mark.{{more}}

The politicking over the date is customary election politics, a situation created by the constitutional provisions which govern us, leaving the choice of date entirely up to the incumbent Prime Minister. A proposal to change it to a fixed date was one of a series shot down in the referendum of one year ago, the biggest triumph of the NDP over its erstwhile rival, the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP).

By last Sunday night though, we were very much reminded how political fortunes could change as a sea of red engulfed the southern town of Calliaqua. If there had been any doubt that prising the Gonsalves administration from office is a formidable challenge, then Sunday night’s ULP rally, coming right on the heels of that of the NDP was a timely reminder.

If anything, there would be few Vincentians who do not welcome the end of the drama. The December 13 date means that the election will be out of the way before the onset of the Nine Mornings and Christmas activities. It also means that we will be spared a protracted campaign, for if truth be told, we have spent the last 12 years or so in political divisions. It means as well that there will not be any “election Budget” with sweeteners costing the taxpayers valuable dollars. Whichever party forms the new government can begin the New Year with a Budget geared to its own priorities.

The boldness of the announcement once more demonstrated the courage of Dr. Gonsalves, “De Comrade” as he is popularly called. One must bear in mind that the country is still in “recovery and reconstruction” mode, following the ravages of hurricane Tomas. It is not easy to carry out such a major task and care for the needs of the thousands affected, while at the same time focusing on an election campaign. At the same time, the early months of 2011 will not be easy to navigate. Then is when the negative effects of the hurricane damage on the economy will most be felt. It can pose serious difficulties for any government especially among those who ascribe each and every difficulty to “the government”. So, in that sense too, it is wise not to have to face the electorate when the crisis is biting.

The confidence exuded by “de Comrade” reveals a sense of his party’s own recovery from its humiliating setback of just one year ago. Then, the NDP seemed to be in the ascendancy, and epitaphs were being written of Dr.Gonsalves. During the year, the Opposition openly boasted that “we run things”, a boast dramatized in Mr.Eustace’s grand announcement of the election date before the Prime Minister’s disclosure. But it would have been wise to avoid over-confidence. Indeed NDP founding father, Sir James Mitchell, had warned his party not to be carried away by the results of the 2009 referendum. Winning an election was a different matter entirely, he admonished his colleagues. So it will prove to be.

Winning an election will call for more than the vilification of Dr.Gonsalves, as the Opposition will find out. Even the continued choice of the “NO” symbol, tactlessly with a “thumbs down” as in the Roman Emperor condemning Christians to death, seems to characterize the mindset. But what is needed is not just a stream of condemnation, but an alternative vision, a clear strategy for continued economic progress and development. When will this emerge? There is not much time left. It may keep your rabid supporters happy to accuse De Comrade of “mashing up the economy”, but it is another to sustain this claim for the thinking electorate, in the face of hard economic facts.

The strong showing by the NDP in the referendum and its aggression since then has certainly been good for parliamentary democracy. It has been able to pounce on the shortcomings and mistakes of the government and to keep up a healthy challenge. That is good for the Government as well, for no government must be left unchallenged. The next hurdle though is to prove that as an alternative, you are better, more capable of providing inspired leadership, in keeping with the times and bold enough to be able to venture into uncharted territory. Can the NDP do this?

Vision and leadership will certainly be important factors in winning the support of the electorate. They will be especially important in attracting the support of the army of young people whose votes, if cast, will be the deciding factor on December 13. Let’s have a clean, edifying campaign, one which enlightens us, uplifts the nation and places us in an informed position to exercise our franchise.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.