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An election like no other

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It is clear that the stakes are extremely high as the countdown continues for the December 13 election. At stake is the legacy of Dr. Gonsalves, which could be destroyed if he is booted out of office. On the part of the Opposition, it has to convince the people of the country that it is a different party than that which was removed from office in 2001. Clearly, the New Democratic Party’s 17 years in Office was an indication that they were satisfying the majority of the people of the country. By 2001, the party had grown stale and the people of the country felt it was time for a change.{{more}} We are at another crossroads, and the focus of attention is once again going to be on the Prime Minister. Some of the more seasoned politicians of the ULP have been removed, leaving a number of younger ones. This has certain implications, for one of the criticisms of the ULP was the utter dominance of its leader. If the more seasoned faces were unable to convince the public that they were capable of having a restraining influence on the power of the Prime Minister, what happens when you have a group of untested recruits? The utter dominance of a leader runs contrary to the idea of a team. It is of significance, too, that the only persons who were in a position to offer competition to the leader were replaced. Was this by chance?

The New Democratic Party has a group that has been untested in terms of political office. Only the leader of the Party has previously held a position in Cabinet and actually served for a short period as Prime Minister. Four others have served in Parliament: two from the elected benches and two as nominated members. Over the years, one of the things that the electorate has paid little attention to is the track record of persons offering themselves to political office. It is my view that the role these individuals play in public/community service can give an indication of the way they are likely to behave when given political office. With one proviso, however, that political office brings with it power, the kind of power that was unlikely to exist in other positions that might have been held before. The adage ‘Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’ should always be a reminder when we see politicians acting the way they do, but it is also true that we have hardly paid attention to their behaviour in positions held before the acquisition of political power.

‘Tomas’ has played into the political situation that exists. The many calls about the abuse of Tomas’ relief supplies need to be seriously investigated. If it is true that supplies had been stored in the yards of some candidates and that NEMO has on occasions referred persons seeking supplies to these candidates, then we are threading on dangerous grounds, because not only will that be a betrayal of the countries / organisations which provided those supplies, but it also goes against the grain of what free and fair elections are supposed to mean. What is the purpose of getting candidates involved in the distribution of supplies, if that is what is happening? In the first place this should not even be the responsibility of those holding political office much less those who are not. So the message is clear.

I have while writing this article been able to look at a piece from Kenton Chance referring to a pronouncement by the Prime Minister that civil servants will get a 2 percent back pay dating back to January. Chance says that the Prime Minister suggested “that the increase would only be paid if the ULP is returned to office.” A clear case of blatant electioneering that comes with the silly season. This had been promised to civil servants for some time, now in the heat of the election campaign, these commitments are being hurriedly made. The interesting thing is that if the instructions have already been given to civil servants to have this prepared, then any other government will have to stand by it.

The question of leadership always arises during an election period, with the Prime Minister indicating earlier that he is the only person capable of leading this country. This, of course, is an insult to the people of this country and is a reflection of the mad behaviour that arises at this time. The question is what makes Gonsalves more capable of leading this country than anyone else. I am assuming that this is meant to be retroactive. By this I mean that it follows that this was the situation since 2001. If our Prime Minister believes this (although I believe it is idle political talk), what has he done with regard to succession planning? Who has he been grooming to replace him in the event that anything went wrong? We have, however, never really come to a consensus on what leadership involves. One important thing about a political leader in a democracy is the relationship he/she has with the people. A democracy is defined as a political or social unit governed ultimately by all its members. We have been using that word ‘ultimately’ limiting it to the fact that power rests with the people at election time. This has been one of our problems, which is why the idea of a “recall” sometimes comes into the debate. A leader is really a facilitator but this is more in theory than in practice, for quite often our leaders make a mockery of our religious sensibilities by turning to God to justify their right to rule, leaving the impression that they have a divine right to be where they are. We have seen this happening in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

I had started by saying that this was an election beyond any other. Quite a number of things are happening on a scale never seen before: the amount of money being spent, the involvement of young people and people generally, the use of the airwaves, the involvement by Vincentians in the Diaspora as seen by the frequent calls to radio stations and the number of emails that are being sent. What has begun to take centre place recently is the number and extent of promises being made. The question is, would we allow ourselves to be influenced by promises made in the heat of an election battle or are we prepared to judge the contestants based on what we have seen of them over the past years?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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