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We are only ten days away!

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By the time this issue of SEARCHLIGHT reaches the streets, the big day, December 13, will only be ten days away. This is surely shaping up to be one of those ‘mothers of all elections’, as journalists and other commentators like to dub them. The people of this country seem to be more involved than they have ever been. This is not surprising because the technology facilitates it.{{more}} Pictures and comments about meetings and other political activities appear on Facebook as soon as they happen. Vincentians from every part of SVG, and in fact in every part of the world, are able to follow meetings from the comfort of their homes. In the case of persons at home, it does not seriously appear to affect their attendance at meetings, given the big crowds that the parties are attracting to their meetings. I must repeat what I have said before that I am struck by the extent to which some Vincentians in the Diaspora seem to be caught up in what is happening at home, following the meetings and discussions.

Many persons will remember occasions on which market vendors refused to sell goods to customers because they were supporting different parties. We have always since the advent of Adult Suffrage in 1951 taken our elections seriously. In fact, since the formation of McIntosh’s Workingmen’s Association and its entry into electoral politics, we began to experience an intense interest by the masses of the people, even when before 1951, they did not meet the franchise that allowed them to vote. What is different, especially since 2001, is that the intensity and bitterness have continued beyond the election period. One expects this to continue unless the leadership of government makes concerted efforts to correct that and send out signals that once the elections are over we have to forget our political colours and unite as one people. I recently passed a group of persons working on the road, cleaning drains and cutting the overhanging branches of trees. What struck me was that about ninety percent of them wore the colours and symbols of the ruling party as if to make a statement that their dress qualified them to do what they were doing. Talk about the signals you send!

Over the past two weeks, concerns and fears have grown about the possibility of violent confrontation between supporters of the two main political parties. We have heard about incidents in Chateaubelair, Central Kingstown and Marriaqua that if not carefully and swiftly dealt with could spread and get completely out of hand. The tearing down of posters is another issue that is utterly ridiculous and really does not reflect positively on a people who have just celebrated thirty one years of Independence and have experienced fifty one years of Adult Suffrage. I have actually seen people committing this stupid act. Do posters win you support? On Monday and Tuesday evening in East Kingstown, I saw supporters of the ULP marking over NDP signs on the road with ULP ones. The result was a mess and bordered on the infantile. Should we not stop the marking of the streets?

The Editorial of the November 26 issue of the SEARCHLIGHT newspaper called for “…A joint condemnation by the two aspirants to the highest office and a joint appeal for a peaceful campaign.” It said that it is not too much to ask of them. Whether in response to this or independent of it, the Leader of the Opposition called on the Prime Minister to hold a joint press conference urging an end to violence. This came after an earlier appeal by him for calm and non-violence on November 18 after incidents involving an alleged attempt at shooting on calypsonian/farmer Selwyn ‘Jinny’ Delpesche after he appeared on the platform at an NDP meeting and an assault on his Secretary while observing registration in the constituency of East Kingstown. The Prime Minister rejected the call, referring to the Leader of the Opposition as a ‘Hypocrite’ who simply wanted to use the opportunity to look Prime Ministerial. So where do we go from here? At this stage the most we can do as concerned citizens is to urge restraint and hope that the situation does not degenerate into violent confrontation.

One other matter which caught the public’s attention during the past week was the appearance of Dominican Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan on radio programmes urging the Vincentian electorate to re-elect his friend Prime Minister Gonsalves. Elections have importance to the people of a country wherever they are held. Elections are sensitive issues, and as in the case of St.Vincent and the Grenadines very intense affairs. Astaphan, needless to say, drew the wrath of opposition forces. He is a lawyer who has regularly represented Prime Minister Gonsalves and the government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines in Court cases and in other legal matters, including the inquiry into the Ottley Hall affair. Astaphan was, therefore, seen as defending his interests, having made significant sums of money for his work in SVG. My concern, however, goes beyond this. Astaphan knows nothing about the affairs of St.Vincent and about the issues confronting the electorate. While we talk about moving toward a Single Market and Economy, our brothers and sisters in sister countries in the region have to see this period as a sacred one for the people of the country who will resent their intrusion into the political affairs of their country at a time when the stakes are so high. Astaphan is in no position to lecture us on matters like the so-called Education Revolution or other internal matters that affect our lives. After the campaign he moves back to the comfort of his home, leaving us to deal with the fallout from the elections.

I have in the past been especially concerned about Prime Ministers appearing on platforms in countries other than their own during election campaigns. Some years ago when Prime Minister Gonsalves appeared on the platform of the Peoples’ National Party of Jamaica during an election campaign, the BBC had asked me for a comment on it and I indicated that I was completely against it since it was likely to lead to complications if the opposing party won the elections and assumed the reins of Office. This just added to the list of things that the PM had against me. That was my considered opinion and I was prepared to stick by it regardless of whom it displeased.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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