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NDP pulling out all the stops

NDP pulling out all the stops

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The New Democratic party (NDP) seems to be pulling out all its stops in a effort to unseat the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) in the next general elections, widely expected before year end. This is not surprising following its record of four consecutive losses at the polls, having come within one seat of victory on the last two occasions, 2010 and 2015.

It also faces the prospect of a man they had dubbed a “one-term Papa” possibly winning an unprecedented fifth successive term, a record in Caribbean politics.

In addition, a victory by the ULP would force a number of rethinks on the NDP’s side, from political leader Dr Godwin Friday in his first election as alternative Prime Minister, to veterans St Clair Leacock and Daniel Cummings wondering how long they could continue on the opposition benches.

The old Labour Party had itself been faced with this dilemma, indeed a far worse situation, after its wipe-out at the polls in 1989, though that prospect hardly exists for the NDP. However the Labour Party was in a more fortunate situation then since there were other active political parties of merit. It engaged in unity talks with first what was left of the United Peoples Movement (UPM) which had put up a formidable challenge on debut at the polls in 1979 and later Dr Gonsalves’ Movement for National Unity (MNU), itself an offshoot of the UPM. This led to electoral arrangements between the MNU and SVLP and eventually a merger. The rest is history.

The situation today is far different for outside the ULP and NDP, no other credible political force exists. In addition the civil society movement, a formidable force for three decades has declined in importance and certainly in political clout over the last 15 to 20 years.

There is undeniably a feeling among sections of the electorate that the ULP has been in power “too long” encouraging the view that “somebody else” should be given “a chance”. The only alternative will be the NDP and it faces the task of presenting itself as a credible alternative, one capable of undertaking the task of national leadership in such troubling times.

In its bid to accomplish this, the NDP seems to have gone back to the past to try and map out a future. NDP founder and former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell has been brought out of the political retirement to help to lead the charge. He has immediately sought to put his stamp on proceedings, warning of a change in strategy, aiming to win swing voters under a “National Unity” slogan. He has even warned of a change in t-shirt colours, from yellow to white.

The other part of the NDP thrust has been to try and capitalize on difficulties being experienced from health challenges. Having erred in its prescriptions for dealing with the COVID pandemic, the NDP has zeroed in on what it claims is inaction by the Ministry of Health in terms of the outbreak of dengue fever.

Its chief spokesman on health matters has even called for the resignation of the Minister of Health. It is not by chance that the Minister is contesting the crucial East Kingstown seat, currently held by former NDP leader Arnhim Eustace, so any sense of failing on the part of the Minister will certainly boost the NDP’s chances of retaining the seat. Electoral politics indeed!

All in all, the NDP needs to try to avoid the apprearance of not having a cohesive, compelling narative and prove to the “swing voters” that it is a sound alternative which can be trusted with leadership of the country. Can it rise to the occasion?