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Do or die elections


The past few general elections held in St Vincent and the Grenadines have been characterized by the intensity of campaigning, so much so that each one has attracted its own descriptive tag – the ‘Mother of all Elections’, the one to ‘Decide the Future’ and so on. So, how do we refer to this one upcoming on December 9?

The energy and intensity being displayed by both contending parties is such that it almost borders on madness. The impression given by both the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is that there is everything at stake.{{more}} It seems to be a DO OR DIE situation. All of this is in the context of a prolonged campaign in which both parties have been hammering at each other non-stop for more than a decade now.

Why is such importance attached to the 2015 elections? What is the motivation driving campaigners, on both sides, to such lengths?

On the part of the party supporters, those in the NDP camp are suffering a deep sense of frustration after being ‘in the cold’ this long, tantamount to how ULP supporters must have felt in the late nineties. Our political system is cruel and non-inclusive. Even though the party you support gets close to 50 per cent of the popular vote, you lose and are kept out from meaningful participation and from enjoying the fruits of victory. The prospect of losing to the person the Opposition ‘loves to hate,’ Prime Minister Gonsalves, so reviled over the years, must be especially galling. And, those band-waggonists, who have switched sides, for whatever personal reasons, must find the prospect of being on the losing side particularly depressing.

On the Government side, there are also, naturally, some free riders, who can’t bear to contemplate the end of that ride. But many support the ULP because they perceive that the country has benefitted under Dr Gonsalves’ tutelage and perceive a change of direction to be potentially disastrous. These include the army of young people who have seen tangible benefits flowing from a ULP administration. This contingent can well play a decisive role in the elections.

But it is on the part of the respective leaders that the strain will most tell. Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace has weathered many a storm and besides whatever vision he has for the country, his pride must be very much at stake. It must be his final bet at the proverbial “Last Chance Saloon”. He must be desperate to prove his detractors wrong, to triumph at last over the many perceived taunts by the Prime Minister, which tended to cast aspersions on his intellectual and political ability.

There is more too. He has had to fight off opposition even within his own ranks, and the somewhat unfair characterization that he is “soft”. This includes his rift with former mentor Sir James Mitchell, who publicly belittled Mr Eustace by saying that he (Mitchell) made Eustace a Prime Minister, but that Eustace made himself Leader of the Opposition three times. How would Mr Eustace savour the prospect of an election night victory, proving them all wrong!

For Prime Minister Gonsalves, pride again plays an important role. He does not say it publicly, but he must harbour the personal ambition to at least equal Sir James’ record of four successive electoral victories at the helm of his party. A legacy is at stake. In addition, having gone back on an earlier principle of limited terms for prime ministers, he can’t afford to bow out a loser. Having begun his electoral career with three straight losses at the helm of a small, third party, Dr Gonsalves will want to ride off into the sunset on top and so seal his place in history.

But personal considerations aside, the Prime Minister has an impressive series of accomplishments under difficult circumstances which he will now like to see bloom into fruition. There is the Argyle International Airport, other mega-projects, such as the proposed new city at Arnos Vale and the relocation of Port Kingstown, major tourism investments and promised employment and economic opportunities. Much to defend!

There are indeed high stakes on the electoral table. We can only hope that despite the stakes, the electoral process remains free and fair.