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Reflections on the 2010 General Election

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The 2010 General Election is now history, while its implications and consequences will not manifest themselves for some time. Perhaps more than any other election before, this one demands a greater deal of reflection and time in which to do so because there were so many different forces at play. We know for sure that it was a close finish, the governing ULP winning in a ‘razor edge’ finish.{{more}} It is generally believed that there was a relatively large turnout at the polls and the figure that is quoted is 61.65 percent of the 101, 053 registered persons. But we have to exercise some caution and ask 61.65 percent of what. Clearly the number of registered voters is not a reliable guide to the numbers that are actually entitled to vote and bears little resemblance to reality. The NDP claims that there were some 20,000 deceased persons whose names still appear on the electoral list. I am not sure how reliable that number is, but undoubtedly there are significant numbers of dead people still on the list. I know the father of a friend of mine who died over twenty years ago is still on the list. There are persons on the list who have been away for over ten years and who have never returned home during that period. Clearly there is need to clean up the list, but this is easier said than done.

One of the suggestions making the rounds is to erase from the list all of those persons who had not voted, either for the last election or for the last two elections and have them apply to be reregistered if they are indeed eligible to be registered. This is perhaps the only way it can be done. This has to be accompanied by some mechanism that allows the Registry to automatically provide the Electoral Office with the names of persons who are deceased. Without these, estimating the percentage of persons who have voted becomes problematic. As it is now with persons who have left the country for some time or who have been deceased still appearing on the list it will be possible if the list isn’t cleaned up to have a voting population that is even larger than the estimated population of the country. For surely some of those persons who have migrated, even if their names are still on the list, might not be included in the census data.

What were the factors at play in this election of December 13, 2010? To what extent did the issue of the International Airport at Argyle, the so-called ‘Education Revolution’, leadership, the impact of young and first time voters, the distribution of hurricane relief supplies, among others, impact on the final outcome? We might all speculate on these but it is difficult to form firm conclusions outside of an opinion poll. I have closely followed general elections over the years and have perhaps never seen persons as involved as they have been this year. Of course, the technology has facilitated and accommodated this as political conversations take place on Facebook and the Internet is used to carry the political conversations everywhere. It should be noted that this is the first time that a party has formed government in this country without winning the Kingstown seats. I cannot remember this having been done before. It is of interest and perhaps of some significance that the Governing party is in control of the constituencies on the eastern side of the island, while the party in Opposition, with the exception of Central Leeward, is in control of the western or leeward side, from Fitz Hughes to Kingstown and in the Grenadines where it has always been dominant.

There will of course be much speculation but Tomas did come to the service of the ruling party. Trucks stacked with hurricane relief supplies were travelling throughout the country, even on polling day, distributing supplies. In those that I have seen there were always persons wearing T-shirts of the governing party, assisting with the distribution. This was done openly as if the intention was to make a statement about it. One of the issues that will continue to haunt us for some time is that of the funding of political parties because our campaigns are becoming more sophisticated demanding significant funding which the country’s resources cannot afford. Although the Green Party had obviously attracted some funding, it was not to the extent of the major parties. This will always work against third parties which in that context will never be able to make an impact. The electorate now expects T-shirts and other campaign paraphernalia. Entertainment has to be part of the package, to break the monotony of long speeches. There has been criticism that little attention has been paid to the issues. I do not agree. Do we have to wait until an election is called to know what the ULP and NDP stand for? If we had been following the political scene for some time we would undoubtedly have known what were the issues highlighted and the positions taken by the parties.

The 8-7 margin of victory will perhaps be a sobering one to the winning party, and it was perhaps better that the victor in such a close contest be the incumbent party. The challenges are serious ones and a new party would have had to deal immediately with the expected back pay and pay rise for public servants and to prepare a budget within a month in an environment where the economy appears to be in shambles and where overdrafts for Statutory Boards and the Government as a whole would not be as easy to access, given the changed bank ownership. Despite the victory of his party, Dr.Gonsalves cannot be a happy man, with a weakened Cabinet of about four or rather three new and untested members. This must be seen in the context of the serious challenges his government is likely to face. One gets the impression that funding for the airport is still not completely pinned down and that, at least in the short run, more is going to have to come from the country’s own resources than was initially contemplated to make sure that the project continues smoothly. The next year will not be easy and some sacrifices might have to be made by the people of this country to ensure economic and political stability. With one seat rather than nine separating the parties, the Opposition benches would have become more powerful. I anticipate that the ruling party would have to pay careful attention to the senators they nominate in a bid to strengthen the Cabinet. 2011 will undoubtedly be a year of serious challenges. What will be interesting is how the government responds to them and the dynamics that come in to play.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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