Vincentians face an historic choice
The weight of history is almost upon us. For on November 5, 2020, a mere six days away, St Vincent and the Grenadines will hold a truly historic election. We are aware of course that this language has been used far too often to describe all previous elections. Indeed, in this country, each time the bell rings for general elections we have fallen into the habit of describing it as “the mother of all elections”, or an “election like no other.” This tendency to exaggerate the importance of each election does have an explanation. It serves to mobilize the supporters of each party to go to the polls.
Next week’s election, however, differs from all previous elections in a fundamental way. It brings together two trajectories in a career defining collision. On the one hand, we have the extraordinary career of Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who is our longest serving Prime Minister. On the other hand, we have the emergent career of Dr Godwin Friday who will either send Prime Minister Gonsalves into retirement, or experience defeat in his very first effort to become the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Either way, both men are about to write a chapter in their lives which will be forever etched in the collective memory of Vincentians.
The consequences for Vincentian history cannot be more consequential. In victory, Dr Gonsalves will cement himself among the greatest political leaders in Caribbean history. The ULP is staring at a date with destiny – an unprecedented five consecutive terms in office and unrivalled and uninterrupted 25 years of governance. A victory would give Gonsalves a place on the pantheon of the greatest Caribbean leaders – the Eric Williams, Michael Manleys, Errol Barrows…leaders whose endurance through time became the epitome of political excellence in a democratic political culture. In the process, these men came to define the very meaning of Caribbean nationhood.
Of course, no Vincentian politician and few Caribbean politicians have been as keenly attuned to their historical legacies as Ralph Gonsalves. And precisely because this is almost certainly the last time that Gonsalves will ask the Vincentian electorate to render its judgment on his fitness to retain the leadership of the country, this election becomes a final judgment on his vision and governance of SVG since 2001. This will either be affirmed. Or it will be repudiated.
A repudiation of the ULP would indeed open an entirely new chapter in Vincentian history. Dr Godwin Friday would become only fifth prime minister in our history. And at a time when we have just celebrated our 41st Independence anniversary, he would become the first prime minister who did not come out of the era of colonial politics. Both the psychology and practice of governance would be quite different from that of Gonsalves. The liberation politics of Gonsalves would be replaced by a technocratic culture that leans more heavily into increasing the efficiencies of governance across every domain of Vincentian life rather than a frontal assault against the iniquities and inequities of our colonial past.
In this sense Vincentians do face an historic choice. Is the job of Gonsalves complete? Next week Thursday we will know.