Parliamentary Elections amidst the pandemic
Nationals of Trinidad and Tobago went to the polls yesterday, the fourth CARICOM nation to do so in the time of COVID-19. Guyana, Suriname and St Kitts Nevis were ahead of the twin island nation, their nationals having exercised their franchises on March 2, May 25 and June 5, respectively.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is likely to walk this same path in the next few months. What can be learned from the experiences of our neighbours? What can we emulate? What should we avoid?
The general elections in St Kitts Nevis were held while its borders were still closed so that electors who were not on the islands could not return home to vote. Trinidad and Tobago had to proceed with their poll without the presence of overseas observers because of the expense associated with the 14-day quarantine period that would have been required of the observers.
The adjustments that we will be required to make in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the run up to election day and on the day itself are left to be seen as they will depend on what protocols are in place when the elections are called.
But we are already seeing the impact of the pandemic on the way in which political parties are campaigning.
Traditionally, campaigns in St Vincent and the Grenadines have been crowd driven, with party supporters feeding off the energy of each other and from the spirited performances on the political platform. In the time of COVID-19 things will be much different. In this regard, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has moved ahead with a schedule of weekly virtual (online) meetings. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) has yet to unveil how they plan to move forward in relation to constituency and mass campaigning, given the pandemic.
The electoral office, in addition to its other responsibilities now have the added responsibility of ensuring that voters will be able to register their choice in a safe environment. Older voters, in particular, must be catered for, because of their increased vulnerability to the virus. They constitute but a small percentage of overall electorate so we might be able to assist them without inconvenience to other voters. The vote itself in this time and our capacity and willingness to adjust to the needs of the most vulnerable among us would reflect the strength of our democracy.
The experiences of our sister Caribbean countries have shown that Covid-19 notwithstanding, we will do our duty – exercise our right to choose our government, the most powerful right we possess.
The virus can stop the carnival. But it cannot stop election day.