20 years in power, a magnificent achievement, but what after?
It is a pity that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves was not physically present to revel in the praises for the 20th anniversary of the victory of his Unity Labour Party’s victory in the general elections of March 28, 2001.
Unfortunately his duties as husband have required him to be at the bedside of his wife as she gets medical attention abroad and I can only imagine the internal agony of ‘De Comrade’ on such an occasion.
To add to that agony is the protracted COVID situation, including the stubborn promotion of some ideas which do not lend themselves to a solution to our continuing crisis which is now compounded by the threat of a violent eruption of the Soufriere volcano. Could it get worse than that?
Still, P.M. Gonsalves is a hardened “political animal” as he would describe himself, and well suited to endure these trials. After all, his triumphs came after years of bitter disappointments, drinking from the cup of electoral defeats, broken political partnerships, rearranged new partners and a focus on his aims to propel him to the top and leadership of his country.
The 2001 electoral victory itself came on the heels of seven difficult years in political opposition in Parliament and directly out of the turmoil of 2000. From this came the engineered Grand Beach Accord paving the way for early elections in SVG won so handsomely by his party. Whatever our views of Dr. Gonsalves and his ULP, he has undoubtedly been the dominant figure in our politics over the past two decades, the barometer of the politics in our country.
There can be little doubt of the impact that Dr. Gonsalves has had on our politics these past 20 years or of his massive and almost overpowering influence on local development, for better or for worse. In fact, such is his influence that he seems to have almost a hypnotising effect on his opponents who cannot seem to discuss any issue without reference to him. In the process they have virtually ascribed a superman status to “Ralph”, a status which he seems to enjoy.
Whatever his shortcomings, and he is not lacking in this regard, any objective analysis must place him as the most influential and progressive regional leader since the late Maurice Bishop. His influence in Caribbean politics is massive, not only among regional leaders, but among Caribbean people as a whole. In fact, there is some speculation that his contributions to the region may be more appreciated outside SVG than here at home.
Gonsalves is not shy to tout such accolades and to taunt his opponents as well, sometimes descending disappointingly to publicly relishing such trite used to describe him as the “World Boss” description during the last election campaign.
But it is said that “all good things must come to an end” and so must his unbroken period of leadership. What will be vitally important is how Dr. Gonsalves and his party handle the leadership succession. In spite of his periodic reminders that he wishes to leave, there are many who still harbour doubts about this.
The Prime Minister, for all his efforts at promoting younger potential leaders, in practice seems unwilling to share the stage. In spite of the obvious competence of his team, he is the one who does all the feature addresses, sometimes even at prize-giving ceremonies for graduates. Is it not time that a greater role, more space, is given to his potential successors so that we can judge them? And, should they not play a more assertive role in his regard?
The Prime Minister cannot continue to pander to those in his camp who for their own reasons want him to continue. The value of a leader is best appreciated by how he prepares his succession. Having taken the conscious decision to promote two of his Ministers as possible successors, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar and Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, their own performances at the poll during the last election seemed to have been somewhat of a setback for both.
Both are very intelligent young men, though still lacking the political savvy of their mentor. Yet there are signs post-election, that the field is being widen with the emphasis on the two Ministers from the Leeward coast, Carlos James and Orande Brewster. Unfortunately political parties, even at their conventions do not have a history locally of being open, so the public is not privy to a lot of debate and discussions.
Dr. Gonsalves is already assured of his legacy and his place in history. His biggest contribution to our country now can be how he prepares the succession and how it impacts not only on his party but forces the Opposition to look not backward but forward to a progressive alternative as they try to unseat the ULP. There can be no better legacy than a platform on both sides of progressive politics.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.