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Political scientist says Gonsalves taking big risk

Political scientist says Gonsalves taking big risk

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The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is taking a “big risk” by having a national referendum at this time.{{more}}

In fact, says Dr. Tennyson Joseph, lecturer in Political Science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, it gives the Opposition the opportunity to have a trial run leading up to the next general elections.

“The government is taking a big risk in that it is now involved in a (political) campaign. If the people vote yes, the government may breathe a little easier going to the next election.

“(But) if they vote No, I guess their calculation might be that they have some time … to do whatever adjustments might be necessary.”

Joseph, who was speaking exclusively to SEARCHLIGHT last week, said the timing of the referendum is perhaps “bad” because there are general elections “just around the corner”.

General elections are constitutionally due by the end of 2010.

Stressing that he was not predicting the outcome of the poll, Joseph said had the referendum been put to the people just after a general elections, there might have been a different response from the people.

The strategy being used by the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) Joseph said, where voters are being told that they should fear some of the changes to the constitution, is a good one, politically.

“When you don’t know something, you fear it and resist it.”

Joseph, who is a St. Lucian, also views the inclusion of veteran politician Sir James Mitchell on the NDP platform as a factor that the government should take quite seriously.

“The people have a way of attaching themselves to those old charismatic, messianic leaders.”

The UWI lecturer said that two groups of people – “the older generation, who he (Mitchell) would have lead,

and the younger generation with no direct knowledge of his negative side and who would have a mythical and idealised notion of what his abilities had been” – would be attracted to Mitchell.

“It adds something new to the equation that has to be taken note of,” Joseph said.

“Arnhim Eustace has had two attempts and he has so far not been able to breakthrough. Therefore, this is why the referendum might be dangerous for the government, as it gives the Opposition a trial run.

“They (the Opposition) will try to see what effect Sir James has, and if it fails, then they, too, will make the necessary adjustments.”

Joseph is, however, of the opinion that it is “excellent political strategy” by the Government to focus on emotive issues such as the death penalty and same-sex marriages as opposed to having “serious deep discussions”.

“People involved in political campaigns always tell you to stick to … the most basic issues that the simplest man on the street will understand.

“People who read and people who are the sophisticated, intellectual people in society would care about all the subtleties of the new Constitution. But the basic issues that will reach people at a particular level are the things you will put on a political platform, but it is always risky to have a political campaign before an election.”

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