Where there is no vision
In continuing my reflection on the November 5 elections, having looked at the ULP, it is the turn of the NDP to be put under the spotlight.
No one can envy the position that Opposition leader Dr Godwin Friday would have been in on election night. After all, he had been thrown into the election fray at a time when his team was in disarray, its leader forced to abandon ship, a relative novice at the wheel and the country baying for political change. The sweeping 2001 defeat was certainly a humbling experience, especially for a debutant who entered with the security of knowing that Mitchell’s political inheritance would assure him of the Northern Grenadines seat.
So it was first time victorious but on the opposition benches. Yet he was reassured by those in his party’s leadership that Ralph would turn out to be a “one-term Papa”, the NDP would be returned to power at the first opportunity and Godwin Friday could look forward to Ministerial status.
Nearly two decades have passed and he had to endure four successive electoral defeats with the only bits of satisfaction, the moral victory over the ULP in the 2009 constitutional referendum and the tantalizing position of being just one seat short of victory. Surely, on Guy Fawkes night, all those frustrations would be blown away!
Self-conviction in his camp of impending victory must have led him to believe that he could do what his previous leader Arnhim Eustace could not do, and in the process become not only the second Prime Minister from Bequia, but also the first person in local history to emerge Head of Government at his first attempt as Political Leader.
How titillating it must have been to receive the early results, win his seat handsomely and to see his party seemingly well set for victory! Yet he was to be pipped on the line once more. Worse, under his Leadership, the NDP’s seat deficit doubled, their first seat loss for a decade. Winning the popular vote may have been a consolation, but in classical terms it is what one calls a Pyrrhic victory, a victory that amounts in reality to a defeat. That must have been doubly frustrating.
One could therefore understand his state of mind on election night when he was not available for comment. Neither was the victor, amazingly, the never media-shy Comrade Gonslaves, the election victor. It must have been the first time that neither political leader commented on the polls on election night.
When Dr. Friday did speak some days later, I listened in anticipation for his analysis and recipe for the way forward. This time the disappointment was mine, (and I suspect that of many others as well). He held on to virtually claiming victory by winning the popular vote, alluding to the ULP claims in 1998. But this time the NDP’s total was 32,899 (50.3%) while the ULP got 32, 415 (49.5%), a difference of 584. In 1998, when the ULP lost by 7 seats to 8, it garnered 28,025 votes (54.6%) to the winning NDP’s 23,258, a substantial gap of almost 5000.
Now if you misdiagnose a patient, then surely the prescription will be wrong, and can even cause a fatality. It is thus in politics and economics also. The NDP and the likeable Dr. Friday are trapped in time with their failure to understand the events of 200/1 which led to the truncation of the NDP’s term in office, new elections in 2001 and the ushering in of ULP domination. The situation then and that today are completely different. It was not just the so-called “Roadblock revolution” which brought the ULP to power.
A virtual revolutionary situation existed then. The government was in disarray both internally as well as having lost the support of the people. It was civil society, in the form of the Organisation in Defence of Democracy (ODD) which led the anti-government protests, the ULP was well placed to take advantage and political leadership. If only the NDP would learn.
This has been its biggest weakness since then, harping on Ralph this and Ralph that, encouraging supporters to engage in vitriolic attacks of all who do not agree with its line, engaging in costly and futile court cases and incurring needless libel costs. Surely this is no way to build a responsible alternative government. It has failed to take time to hammer out a common philosophy on which its programmes can be based, so it is left with a hodge-podge of proposals, taken from hither, thither and yond.
Dr. Friday, though still lacking in political experience seems to be well-liked, but he must stop the tilting at the elusive windmills. It is time to use his influence to rebuild and reshape the party, to reduce the influence of those bent on trouble-making and rabble-rousing as substitutes for serious political work.
Our country needs a viable alternative to ensure that the ULP is kept in check and is kept to its constitutional role to govern and serve, not to rule. Dr Friday has that opportunity to lead the party on a new path, to try and attract dedicated, intelligent, selfless and THINKING persons into his fold. He must not shirk that responsibility, and must bear in mind that “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.