Posted on

Caribbean political challenges


Tue, Nov 29, 2010

History was made in the Caribbean yesterday, Monday, November 28, when, for the first time ever, general elections were held in two CARICOM countries on the same day.{{more}} In Guyana, that nation’s 475,496 registered voters had the opportunity to cast their ballots under the proportional representation system for a new President and National Assembly, while the 151,734 qualified members of the St. Lucian electorate were able to vote in the first general elections since the death of St. Lucian founding father Sir John Compton.

Our two sister countries in CARICOM share the sense of history with two other countries in the developing world, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which both also had electoral exercises yesterday. Both of these countries have historically been leaders in the fight against colonial rule, and the contributions of their nationalist leaders Gamel Abdul Nasser in Egypt, and the assassinated Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, stirred many a Caribbean nationalist, including the Guyanese legends Cheddi Jagan and Walter Rodney and the fiery St.Lucian nationalist, George Odlum among many others. The shared election date may be coincidental, but the links between the fortunes of all four countries are far from tenuous.

The elections in Egypt and the Congo took place in far from stable situations. Egypt is embroiled in what many describe as the second stage of its 2011 Revolution which erupted in January and resulted in the removal from power of then President Hosni Mubarak, one of two successors who had betrayed Nasser’s legacy, turned Egypt into a virtual military dictatorship and a puppet of interests opposed to those of the Egyptian people as a whole. But Mubarak’s removal, though an advance, has not yet resulted in democracy being instituted in Egypt, and the elections took place amidst popular demands for the removal of the military from the seats of political power.

In Congo too, it took a popular uprising to remove a dictator, Mobotu Sese Sekou, who had been involved in the conspiracy to murder Lumumba, and who, like Mubarak, had put his country at the mercy of foreign interests, whilst imposing a corrupt dictatorship and amassing tremendous personal wealth.

The Caribbean, whilst spared the excesses committed on the African continent and certainly the trauma of brutal dictatorships, has not been free from accusations of betrayal of the original anti-colonial struggles, which brought people like the late Cheddi Jagan of Guyana and John Compton of St.Lucia to prominence. The residue of some of those issues, were put before the respective electorates on Monday.

In St. Lucia, Compton’s daughter, elected to succeed him on the ticket of the party he founded, the United Workers Party (UWP), soon fell out with the Stephen King administration, and was one of four independents contesting the poll. Compton’s widow has also been critical of the King administration which was facing a battle to repeat its 2006 triumph over Kenny Anthony’s Labour Party. In spite of claims of economic progress, in-fighting in the UWP, allegations of corruption and the controversial issue of relations with either of the two Chinas dominated the campaign.

The ruling PPP in Guyana also faced challenges at the polls on Monday. After 19 years in office, and with outgoing President Bharat Jagdeo constitutionally unable to stand for re-election, it has turned to long-standing party activist Donald Ramotar as its Presidential candidate. However, the opposition People’s National Congress (PNC), founded by Jagan’s arch-rival Forbes Burnham, has broadened its scope to encompass an alliance with smaller parties, with former army head David Granger. The Partnership for National Unity which has emerged was considered to be making a strong bid for power.

Whatever the results in Guyana and St. Lucia, it is important that the incoming regimes be able to focus beyond narrow national issues and broaden their perspectives to the challenges of Caribbean development as a whole. The global economic crisis makes it even more an imperative for Caribbean countries to work more closely together. With Jamaica preparing for elections and the unsettled state of affairs in Trinidad and Tobago, wider regional matters, pressing though they are, will be forced onto the back burners. The region can ill-afford this. We can only hope that stability and an urgent sense of regionalism is quickly restored to enable us all to confront these challenges.