The quote “a week is a long time in politics” is often attributed to the former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Looking back at the past week in politics, both in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the United States (US), what a long week it has been! Without doubt, the outcome of both elections is historic. In the case of SVG, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has secured an unprecedented fifth consecutive term in government for the Unity Labour Party (ULP). With respect to the US, a woman, notably a woman of colour, will be Vice President for the first time.
Looking first at the outcome in SVG, the challenges ahead for the ULP government are enormous, but not insurmountable. The most pressing challenge is likely to be staving off economic decline and resuscitating the economy amid the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Indeed, this is a challenge facing all countries.
A number of local projects already earmarked, namely in the tourism sector, have the potential to create an instantaneous economic stimulus. They also offer longer term potential for job creation and economic growth. Other areas that can contribute favourably to national economic wellbeing include agriculture and food security, green growth programmes and continued efforts to encourage entrepreneurship, specifically among the young people.
The second major challenge for the ULP government could be what appears to be a divided country, as emotions still seem to be running high on both sides of the political fence. However, moving the country forward requires the commitment and singleness of purpose of all Vincentians, both at home and abroad. We can only hope that politicians on both sides will take positive steps to foster dialogue and sharing of ideas on all issues of national importance, especially in critical areas such as the economy, healthcare, and job creation. This could send an encouraging signal to the nation that we are all in this project of national development together.
In terms of a quick word to the opposition New Democratic Party, of course, no one wants to lose an election.
However, a strong opposition should be an indispensable feature of any democracy. Essentially, a strong opposition has the potential to place an effective check on government, whether through the Public Accounts Committee, in parliament or in the media.
Turning to the outcome of the US elections, barring some unforeseen development at the level of the judiciary, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be President and Vice President, respectively, from January 20, 2021. An immediate foreign policy priority for the Biden-Harris Administration should be restoring America’s international reputation and restoring the proper functioning of multilateralism. In this regard, taking immediate steps with respect to the following would be ideal:
- Resolving the Appellate Body impasse at the World Trade Organization (WTO) by removing America’s veto on the appointment of new judges.
- Removing America’s blockage to the appointment of the Nigerian candidate as the next Director-General of the WTO.
- Reversing America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) which takes effect on July 6, 2021.
- Restoring America’s membership to the Paris Climate Change Accord.
- Reengaging both Iran and North Korea with respect to curbing their nuclear activities.
- Dialing back tensions with China, especially on trade and the digital economy.
- Reassuring allies of America’s enduring commitment to liberal democracy, global peace and security.
While many people around the world have hailed the outcome of the US elections, we should understand that a Biden-Harris Administration will not be a panacea for the afflictions of America and the world. On this note, I must emphasize that problems of institutional racism, inequality and the widening left-right ideological and policy divide will not disappear overnight in America. Similarly, the rest of the world should be forgiven if it does not immediately rush back into the arms of America as newly reconciled lovers would. The US should be made to put some extra work into regaining the trust of the world by first taking the steps necessary to demonstrate that it will once again play a constructive and mature role in global affairs.
Finally, while a woman will occupy the second highest office in the executive of the US Government, no woman has been elected to serve in the parliament of SVG. However, in the interest of gender equity, it might be instructive for both parties to prioritize the appointment of women as senators. Hopefully, consideration would also be given to having women appointed to some ministerial portfolios.