2016 did not exactly come in with a bang. In fact, the Christmas/ New Year period seemed to have been stifled of its natural energy. It even reminded me at times of Christmas 2013, except that people found some way of coming together to help those who suffered the consequences of the freak storm.
At church on Sunday last, the Ghanian priest told of a family that had been politically split. He said that, following the elections, one member was seeking help from another, but was simply told that she must go and ‘Ask Ralph’. The December 9 elections affected things in two ways. First, the energies of a lot of people were taken up with the elections and all its freeness and hostility. Some persons up to Christmas Eve were stating that they were just not in the Christmas spirit. The cancellation of the official opening of Nine Mornings might have made a difference, since, in the past, it has done something to lift the Christmas spirit. Then, of course, following the elections there was anger, mistrust, fear and even growing divisions.
I have been trying to capture the occasion and find it necessary to go back to a novel that I had read many moons ago, A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens’ classic opening lines to my sometimes too fertile imagination describes SVG today; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
Quite often when I write about SVG, I write about a tale of two societies, but I could easily have said two cities; after all we take liberties with the use of the word city. Instead of ‘spring of hope’ and ‘winter of despair’ it will be for us a year of hope and of despair. All the seasons seemed to have fused into one. It is even difficult to distinguish the rainy from the dry season, but then that is not of our making. We are really into a year of foolishness, because we sometimes act like dotish people. Let me give you one example. The Prime Minister, it appears, described his victory ‘four in a row’ as historic and many of us have been repeating this nonsense. It is a case of black being white and right being wrong. Unless I am a foundation member of the foolish and dotish clan and am losing my marbles in the process, I can recall the NDP under Mitchell winning in 1984, 1989, 1994 and 1998. Maybe counting after the education revolution has been revolutionized, but that looks to me like four. The ULP under Dr Gonsalves won in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015. Why is the second one historic and not the first? We no longer think for ourselves, but blindly follow things or people, better said, our ‘earthly gods’.
Our December elections were strange and should be to anyone who has been monitoring elections over the years. As I listed to the results on the night of December 9, something appeared out of order. The numbers called made little sense to me. They just did not reflect the mood of the country. Of the seats won by the ULP, six of them were by increased margins of victory. Interestingly, those with decreased margins were North Central and South Windward. Does that tell a story? I really don’t know! For the NDP, only the Central Kingstown seat was won by an increased margin. Parties in power, especially for more than two terms, do not normally increase their numbers. And all of this at a time when there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the country. The results obviously did not reflect the mood of the country and many on both sides of the political fence would have found the numbers and some of the results strange. I waited late into the night for the results from Central Leeward. When they were shown, they disappeared before I could copy them. I wondered all night what was happening with Central Leeward. This is one of the easiest constituencies from which to get results. After all, Central Leeward is just Barrouallie, Layou and Buccament. Granted there are a number of polling stations there, but they are all easily accessible. In 2010, the NDP lost by 150. In 2015 by 314! I know Central Leeward well. In fact, I have known it all my life. I have monitored all the elections there since 1967. The results shocked me. There must have been a problem. I have little doubt about that. I must admit that there is nothing scientific about my conclusions, but it is not only intuition, but an understanding of the state of play.
I have referred before to the anger I have seen and felt on the streets. It seems not to be disappearing, but instead growing. I have, over the last year, been highlighting the divisions in the country. This has not changed; instead it is getting worse. How and when will the bitterness that is consuming the society end? 2016 will for some be the best of times, while for others, the worst of times. Two societies moving in different directions! We are not all going direct to Heaven. We might all be going direct the other way!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.