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Observations on the Elections

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The final days of the campaign brought an end to a long period of bewilderment for many Vincentians. What would the NDP do about economic development given the limited options available to our tiny state? At long last they made it clear. They would build an international airport, a large hotel and establish a regional commercial bank.{{more}} This is what the ULP had been saying, or rather doing all along. Everyone knows about the ULP, the airport and the 1000 room hotel. The regional commercial bank was more subtle. It was precisely what the ULP set out to do when it sold the majority of its shares in NCB to the Eastern Caribbean Financial Holdings. Now that we are all agreed on these development projects, let us hope that they will be implemented efficiently.

The NDP’s promise to create 20,000 jobs reminded me of nothing so much as the 8th Army of Liberation, one of SVG’s earliest political parties. Led by Comrade Charles it won the 1951 poll, SVG’s first election under universal adult franchise. During their campaign, the 8th Army said they had ships at sea just over the horizon filled with the prerequisites for setting up industries. They would be setting them up as soon as they won the election. Then, aged eleven, I believed it all. After their victory I asked my grandmother, with whom I lived, ‘where were the industries. ‘Cim’ she said, ‘you are still very young, but I hope you will grow up, become educated and learn how to distinguish between sense and damn nonsense.’ After the NDP’s 20,000 job announcement, I prayed that not only I, but SVG as a whole, had grown up.

The ULP conducted a good campaign, with catchy tunes, telling and humorous TV ads., many mass meetings as well as extensive use of the radio and the Internet. Much largesse was on offer, from galvanize to computers. We all agreed that it was the ULP that had the programmes and policies. Yet the ULP only scraped home by the skin of its teeth. The narrowness of the victory can be attributed primarily to three factors: the long and determined campaign conducted by the NDP, the prevailing economic recession and the feeling of déjà vu(staleness) that arises after the same party has been in power for ten years.

The NDP may not initially have had programmes and policies, but they certainly mobilized their traditional supporters with rallies, TV ads, barbecues and other forms of largesse. They tempted fate by referring to their leader as the Prime Minister in-waiting. More cleverly they sought to exploit the déjà vu factor with a simple slogan ‘Ah wah we go do? Vote them out!’ The party surely came agonizingly close to doing so. As happens in such circumstances, rumours are rife about election petitions and incapacitating strokes. We have to hope that no ill comes of it all.

The world is still in recession and St.Vincent can hardly be expected to have escaped from it already. The ECCB points out that in 2010 the economic activity in St.Vincent declined. A fall off in the construction industry was mainly responsible for the decline. What the ECCB did not say was that the decline would have been far worse had it not been for the work at the Argyle airport itself and other construction activity it stimulated like the hotel at Buccama and the rebuilding of homes at Harmony Hall and Diamond by persons displaced by the airport. In politics, one does not get credit for preventing matters from getting worse. Rather, one is punished for not keeping them at the original high level or making them better.

The Comrade clearly anticipated the déjà vu problem and moved early to try to head it off. Firstly, at the very beginning of the second term he declared that he wanted at least seven new faces when the party faced the polls for the third time. Secondly, he started to groom prospective young candidates by nominating them to the House of Assembly. Things did not go always according to plan. Many of the first nominees never made it to the polls. New recruits had to be sought. The younger ones among them showed promise but did not manage to win their seats. Saboto Caesar and Cec McKie, however, vindicated the strategy. They were nominated, joined the Cabinet, and went on to succeed at the elections, Saboto with an increased majority compared to his predecessor. By contrast, two Ministers who were probably not slated to run again did in fact contest and win. It all goes to show the unpredictability of politics. It is virtually impossible to craft a fail-safe strategy. Though the Comrade may have made too much of a fetish about this youth business, he got it right in the end. Winning is the ultimate goal, and he did win, even though it was by one seat. The Comrade’s achievement in this respect can best be appreciated by comparing it with what happened to his close allies who lost in Barbados, St.Lucia and Trinidad.

Credit is also due to Sir Vincent Beache. During all those years in the wilderness he kept the fire burning, particularly, in the Windward constituencies and in Central Leeward where he was ably assisted by Sir Louis Straker. Sir Vincent then selflessly and sensibly handed it all over to the Comrade.

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