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So, we ready to vote

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So, at long last, we ready fo’ vote. Acting in accordance with his constitutional powers, Prime Minister Gonsalves has finally announced the election date, December 7th 2005. True to form it came steeped in all kinds of superstitious razzmatazz, replete with biblical underpinnings of two sevens clashing and all that. 2×7 is 14, is the P.M. aiming to win 14 seats? Is that a realistic possibility? Would that be good for the country given our political and constitutional experience? {{more}}

Normally with the election date now set, one would say that the campaign has started in earnest. Only this time that would be the understatement of the century. The campaign has long started, serious campaigning that is. In fact, there are some who contend that since the March 2001 elections, the campaign has never stopped, before 2001 in reality, since 1998-2001 was marked by a state of heightened political mobilization. The next month would only prolong that process. Given all that has happened so far, the huge crowds traveling long distances to be mass cheerleaders for their parties, it is difficult to imagine what new will come out during the next month, save bigger names and artistes to entertain.

The latter aspect, entertainment, has emerged in the last decade as perhaps the dominant feature of political campaigning. If ever there were any illusion of an independent, under-funded, non-entertainment campaign, then those have been surely put to rest. Elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have joined the Big League; money counts. Money may not be all, thank goodness, but crappo smoke the pipe of anyone or any party, irrespective of political content, who would dare to contest the polls without big financial backing. What implications does this development have for us, post elections? Perhaps we should take a minute or two to chew on this.

That reflection is however squeezed out in times like these. Is either Red or Yellow, U- Pee or De Pee, Com-red or Bald- Head. Anything else is heresy, as Ivan O’Neal is finding out. We have split into two large antagonistic camps; to the credit of all however, we have been spared physical clashes. There are those like myself who would wish, even at this late hour that the real issues would take centre stage, but we are pragmatic enough to know that we only dreaming, crowd pleasing and vote catching are too tempting and apparently too rewarding for the parties to ignore.

In the next two weeks or so the parties will present their manifestos, proposals as to what they would do if elected. Each, while praising its own programme would pour cold water on the other’s, each would seek to convince us that not only is the social and economic salvation of SVG dependent on their party being elected to office, but that any other result would result in total doom and destruction. As we listen to them we must put their records before us if we are to make a realistic appraisal of their proposals.

One issue which we must insist on being addressed is the matter of the economy, especially given our critical juncture. The state and future of agriculture, as a revenue earner, an income generator, a stimulator of the rural economy and the basis of our food security and food sovereignty, demands serious attention. Where are the parties on this, on linkages with other sectors, particularly the agro-tourism connection? In concrete terms, how do we tackle diversification?

In this context the issue of the role of the state would also be key. Is it merely regulatory, administrative and supervisory, or does our current state of development demand a more active role of the state? Should government seek to stimulate investment by way of incentive regulatory framework and infrastructure or does it have a wider, more involved role? What role should the private sector play and where is civil society in all this?

Related to these issues would be the governance question. Good governance is a term much bandied about these days, especially by international institutions, but what is it in practice? Shouldn’t it depend on ensuring the full and meaningful participation of our people in the decision-making process? That is why mechanisms like the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and the Local Government Commission were established. It would be more than useful to hear honest comments and clear proposals from the political parties on these two aspects of the political reform process. Having both agreed on the need for political reform, having had the benefit of the CRC Report and the political experience of the past four and a half years, how do our would-be leaders want to place the “deepening of the democratic process?”

Is it too much to expect focus on such critical issues over the next month? Perhaps we will be too busy listening to what Ralph say or Arnhim do, taking in the political commess, to insist on sober reflection on the way ahead. No matter who wins the election, SVG faces a rough ride ahead of us; unpalatable meals will have to be swallowed, pairful injections taken. When all the wailin’ done, the truth will have to be faced and the real wailing endured. It will be no easy task to keep this ship afloat and if we feel that Ralph alone or Arnhim alone will do it, we lie.

That is why it is so painful to me to see tens of thousands being mobilized but to what end? That our people could brave the elements to make a show of strength for their leaders tells us a whole lot about our potential. We can make sacrifices for causes we consider worthy. How can we harness this potential for nation building, capture the exuberance and the creativity of young and old alike in programmes to build our country?

Those are the concerns that I have as we embark on the last few weeks of the 2005 campaign. Forgive me I am not on the bandwagon of the soothsayers and “political analysts” summing up the fortunes of the parties, but sanity must be maintained and SVG kept on track. The campaign is going to be crucial to our future development but it all depends on how it is conducted. Next week, some comments on the campaign.

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