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Does St Kitts’ elections have lessons for us?


Fri Feb 20, 2015

Editor: It has become the norm that political parties have used the win/loss of their fraternity parties around the Caribbean as a markers for their own local realities. Even the divide between Democrats and Republicans in the United States has been transposed onto the Vincentian electorate. Whatever the case, there are lessons and again there are ‘lessons.’ It is important that as both the ULP and the NDP assess the recent St Kitts and Nevis poll, that they contextualize the results and extrapolate the ‘truths’ of what the results mean and for whom.{{more}} Anyone who has not been following the development in St Kitts/Nevis, can be easily swayed one way or the other by the results and inadvertently make incorrect prescriptions and strategies as time draws nigh for our very own dance with election beats.

Leadership an issue

For all the concerns about jobs, health care, security, corruption etc, the fundamental issue in the growing democracies across the Caribbean is that of leadership. The political party system has thrown up maximum leaders and the elections are basically referendums on the parties’ leadership. In essence, who the country wants to be the Prime Minister.

When Timothy Harris and Sam Condor, who at the time was Deputy Prime Minister, left the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party, headed by former Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas, it created the environment for the electorate and particularly those supporters of the Labour Party to wonder aloud about the heavy-handed and, what many say, dictatorial tendencies of Douglas. Douglas’ back was already against the wall, as he was seeking an unprecedented fifth term. With or without the fissure within the party, the electorate was always going to look at the Douglas administration with a ‘lizard eye.’

Douglas’ own election results shows that he is still widely popular and the closeness of the results in the marginal constituencies also indicate that the Labour Party maybe down, but not out. Remember St Lucia and Grenada? Like Owen Arthur and other regional leaders of his time, Douglas is a victim of his own belief that only within himself are the traits and qualities of the quintessential Caribbean prime minister deposited. No one, popular or not, should offer themselves for five consecutive terms. The electorate grew Douglas-fatigue. Other leaders should learn when to leave on their own terms in a dignified manner and protect their legacies.

Timothy Harris-Douglas-LITE

Timothy Harris is no Arnhim Eustace. Arnhim Eustace is no Timothy Harris. This is where the lessons are key for the NDP and their strategists. Party hosts and callers have fallen victim to commentary on the election night results, when one of the hosts in describing Dr Douglas, said he was a ‘charismatic’ leader and in passing said new Prime Minister Dr Harris was a ‘technocrat.’ The two delineations are also often used in the head-to-head match-up of Dr Gonsalves and Arnhim Eustace. Yet, the host’s full remarks seemed to have missed many. She said that Dr Harris was equally a charismatic leader as Dr Douglas, to the extent that they are cut from the same cloth—the Labour Party. She went on further that the new prime minister is similarly witty and sharp (my own words). As a way to then distinguish the two, she innocently threw in a spanner of ‘technocrat.’

Yet, for those who know St Kitts politics and can read into results beyond headlines, they will appreciate that Prime Minister Harris’ supposed rise to fame is somewhat anti-climactic. He was one of the most loved and affable labour leaders. He unlike many constituency representatives, spends much of his time within the constituency and in communion with the people. As such, it will be fatal for anyone to make the assumption that the St Kitts electorate pitched the match-up as “Charismatic vs Technocratic leadership.”

To further portend a thesis that it deductively means that ‘Arnhim the Technocrat’ is now a winnable argument locally, misses the pulse and beat of what the results mean for us at home.

Pollster Peter Wickham was also on the mark when he explained the different electoral fortunes between former Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, who lost his seat, and Dr Harris. Dr Timothy Harris was running as Opposition Leader and Prime Ministerial candidate, which excites voters within a particular constituency. If a leader of the other main opposition People Action Movement (PAM) was head of Team Unity, then maybe Dr Harris would have suffered the same fate as Condor. Interestingly, the other Opposition parties may have benefitted from Dr Harris’ own charisma and likeability, something which eluded them for four previous electoral cycles.

What does this all mean for Arnhim Eustace? It has always been my contention that the NDP has not won the leadership debate, because within its own ranks, they see the ‘technocratic’ leader as superficially less electorally appealing. The NDP is yet to embrace Mr Eustace to the extent that the whole party rallies around him. The body language does not equate to ill-spirited attempts every time several candidates mount the platform or speak on radio as to supporting Arnhim Eustace’s leadership. Why is this still necessary to be spoken aloud? This is the problem confronting the party. The party will do best to study the David Thompson 2008 election victory on how to find the right messaging. After all, no leadership style is better than the other, right?

Hard work pays off

As many on both sides tuned into the election night coverage and swooped up the headlines the following day, what was critically missing was what happened in the engine room two years ago, what were the real questions the electorate was asking and how the coalition of opposition parties came together for change. For while the Labour Party has lost, it is a Douglas-lite regime that now governs. As one radio caller said, the next election here will not be won on Facebook and radio, but by hard work. It is imperative that the unique circumstances in St Kitts and Nevis do not distract any of the political parties from the peculiarities of our very own electoral mood. With a virtual split down the middle, SVG may very well be conversely ‘politically-fatigued’ after years of non-stop campaigning and less governing.

He who have ears to hear, let them hear!



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