R. Rose
December 12, 2014

Cruickshank, politicking and our democracy

It really is a tragedy that former national cricketer and political activist Edgar Cruickshank had to die the way he did — struck by a vehicle while attending a political meeting, but perhaps symptomatic that politics was with him to the end. A more tenacious and committed political activist could hardly be found to match him even when he undertook campaigns single-handedly, as in his campaign for justice and compensation from the Kingstown Town Board.{{more}}

His tenacity and aggression may have been honed in his cricketing days when he patrolled the covers with unmatched dedication and skill earning a reputation as one of our best outfielders. He was to become an equally formidable political campaigner, one whom I got to know “in the trenches” when I was in the leadership of the UPM and he, a stalwart of the then Labour party. He never let his political affiliation prevent him from attending meetings of the UPM nor did he engage in personal hostilities in spite of our political differences. There is much in him from which many on both sides of the political divide, who are publicly mourning his loss, can learn. My deepest condolences to his bereaved family.

Sadly, Cruickshank’s death is engulfed in political controversy. Given the circumstances, a driver careening into a political meeting of the opposition NDP, and all the emotional suspicions aroused, that is only natural. It is therefore commendable that Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has called for calm and a thorough investigation.

All kinds of theories and allegations are being made, in the regular and social media. However Eustace is reported as saying, “I know that there are a lot of theories out there….but our objective must be to get to the bottom of this issue. It has serious implications for the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, very serious implications.” Those comments must be taken in the context of the bitter rivalry between our two political “tribes” spilling over often into outright hostility by supporters. This goes a long way back and immediately the memory of political violence which led to the death of an Opposition supporter during an election motorcade some years ago springs to mind. The genie of political violence must never again be allowed out of the bottle.

This situation needs to be handled responsibly, and transparently, if it is not to lead to a degeneration of political campaigning into violent conflicts and undermine the very democracy in which we profess so much belief. The manner in which the police and judicial authorities undertake this assignment will be crucial to public confidence in the justice system and to the preservation of law and order.

As we get ready for an intensive year of electioneering in 2015, it is good for us to take notice of developments around us. Dominica for instance, has just conducted a successful general elections, one in which Prime Minister Skerrit led his party to a third successive success for him, and a fourth consecutive victory for his Dominica Labour Party. Congratulations to this standard bearer of the younger generation of political leaders in the region.

Significantly, in his victory speech, Skerrit congratulated the Dominican electorate for displaying its political maturity in holding a peaceful campaign. Not surprisingly (for those who follow the reactions of losing parties after general elections), his opponent, United Workers Party leader Lennox Linton, is crying “sour grapes”, alleging intimidation and bribery.

However the Observer Mission of the Organisa­tion of American States (OAS) has issued its preliminary Report on the Dominica elections. It makes interesting reading.

The Report begins by congratulating Domini­cans for “exercising their civic-minded spirit in a very orderly and respectful manner.” It supported the introduction of “new translucent ballot boxes and additional security measures to safeguard voters and strengthen the electoral process.”

The Observer Mission had its concerns as well. One, of which Vincentians ought to be well aware, was the discrepancy between the number of people on the voters’ list (72,784) as against a total population of 71,293, according to the 2011 census. So the Mission recommended that the “voter registry be reviewed and updated… ensuring only those eligible are on the voters’ list.” Both political parties here should cooperate with the Electoral Department and the Supervisor of Elections in such a task before the next elections to avoid conflict before and after the polls.

(I shall continue with the OAS recommendations and their relevance for our own democracy in my following column next week).

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com-mentator.