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One-seat majority governments have a history of failure

One-seat majority governments have a history of failure

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Prominent lawyer Parnel Campbell QC is cautioning against assuming that because all three previous one seat majority Governments in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have failed, the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves led government would not last the distance.{{more}}

Campbell in his Monday, January 3, television programme ‘The Law and You’ said he has formed this opinion based on his involvement in General Elections here since 1972, and the fact that Gonsalves is an “enormously gifted political strategist”.

Continuing his analysis, Campbell said there are vastly different circumstances between the previous three minority governments and those of the Gonsalves led administration which took office in December 2010.

He contended that the major difference is the presence of Gonsalves.

Campbell stressed that Gonsalves’ opponents continue to make the political error of underestimating him.

“Dr. Gonsalves is enormously gifted as a political thinker, a political strategist, a political operator, and I don’t understand why those who ought to know him better, keep on underestimating his political skills,” said Campbell, adding “the brother is simply out of his class when it comes to political skills, as he has demonstrated in these elections, where professional political pundits had already written his political obituary.”

Campbell said the previous minority governments fell primarily as a result of defection and compromises.

Barring death, Campbell said it is unlikely that someone in the Government or Opposition will defect.

“I do not regard the one seat majority as an indicator of an unstable government at all,” said Campbell,

“But time would tell,” he added.

Campbell stated that St.Vincent and the Grenadines has had four governments which have served with a one seat majority since Adult Suffrage in 1951 – regarded as the time when Party politics began here.

The first one-seat majority government was between the period 1966 and 1967; the second between the period 1972 and 1974; the third between the period 1998 and 2001. The fourth was created on December 13, 2010.

“Whether what happened in the past would be repeated in the future remains to be seen. Although it may be said right away that conditions are somewhat different now from what they were in the historical past,” said Campbell.

He said the semblance of a Party system began to emerge in embryonic form in 1951 and was concretized in 1954 with the formation of the People’s Political Party (PPP), followed by the formation of the St.Vincent Labour Party.

“Those Governments were not in any sense controlling Governments. We still had the Crown Colony system. It is only when the Ministerial System was introduced in 1960 that we really had a semblance of internal self government, and this was solidified after Statehood and formalized with a new Statehood Constitution in 1969,” said Campbell.

Giving a background of the minority Governments, Campbell disclosed that the first minority government here was created by the General Elections of August 20, 1966, with a five-four victory for the PPP, which had contested the elections against the St. Vincent Labour Party, renamed the St.Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party.

Interestingly, said Campbell, one of the PPP’s five seats was the North Leeward constituency, where Sam Slater had defeated James Ferdinand by four votes. Slater polled 1,504 votes and Ferdinand, 1,500.

“That result was followed by a series of skirmishes in the court: election petitions were filed, and the Joshua Government with its one seat majority soldiered on.”

Campbell, noting that Joshua went to great length to prevent the hearing of the petitions, fearing that this could have created problems for his one seat majority.

Campbell recalled that the British Government intervened, and after a series of attempts at mediating in the controversy, indicated to the Parties that they should go back to the polls. This, compounded by Sam Slater’s defection to the Labour Party, resulted in fresh General Elections being called on May 19, 1967: the Labour Party won six seats and the PPP three, bringing an end to the first minority government here.

“Interestingly enough, and I say this by the way, the Labour Party has not been involved in a one seat majority until December 2010. …Of the previous three one seat majority Governments, the PPP was involved in two and NDP was involved in one. This is the first occasion, December last year, in which the Labour Party has been involved in a one seat majority government,” said Campbell.

The second occurrence of a minority government stemmed from the April 7, 1972, General Elections. Campbell said by that time the seats had increased from nine to 13 following the introduction of the Statehood Constitution in 1969.The elections were a three way battle between the PPP, the Labour Party, and James ‘Son’ Mitchell and resulted in a six (PPP) – six (Labour Party) – one (Mitchell) split. At the time Mitchell won the Grenadines seat, it was a single constituency, but was later split to form the Northern and Southern Grenadines seats in 1988.

“After a few days of uncertainty, Mr. Mitchell arranged a coalition government between himself and the PPP. …With Mr. Mitchell added to the PPP’s six, the Government was formed with seven seats and the Opposition Labour Party six seats,” said Campbell.

He noted that that Government lasted just two and a half years.

“Initially, there was bad blood between Mr. Joshua, the Leader of the PPP, and his coalition partner Mr. Mitchell, because Joshua felt that he offered him the Premier. So eventually Mr. [Ebenezer] Joshua and his wife Mrs. [Ivy] Joshua joined with the Labour Party in a vote of No Confidence in September 1974 and brought down the Government by a vote of No Confidence in the House of Assembly,” said Campbell, stating that fresh elections were held on December 9, 1974.

The third one seat majority government was formed by the elections of June 15, 1998. In those elections the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Sir James Mitchell won eight seats and the Unity Labour Party (ULP) seven seats. The ULP also won a majority of the popular vote.

Campbell said this situation led to skirmishes and political instability. A compromise was worked out between Sir James and Gonsalves, where the former agreed to cut short his Government’s tenure and call fresh elections. The Gonsalves’ led ULP won a landslide victory, winning 12 of the 15 seats when elections were called on March 28, 2001.(HN)

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