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Another December poll

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Monday, November 21, is Nomination Day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the day on which candidates for the Dec. 7 general election will formally be declared. However the high profile nature of this election is such that the formalities are already trailing way behind the realities. Thus the candidates of the two major protagonists are already known, 99 percent launched (save for NDP leader, Mr. Arnhim Eustace) and in the case of the outgoing party of government, candidates having been presented to the electorate. {{more}}

How things can change in a decade or two! Traditionally we used to have the sequence of nomination (with some candidates not announced until then), presentation of candidates, followed by the Manifesto launching and after the countless village and community meetings, the Grand Finale. Those are now mainly “blasts from the past”, as the NOW GENERATION would say. All is virtually before us.

The December poll called by P.M. Gonsalves is Labour’s third such outing in the last three decades. In 1974, following the collapse of the PPP-Mitchell coalition, Vincentians were called to the polls on Monday December 9. Perhaps considering the 1974 victory (the 10-2-1) as a good omen, the governing Labour Party, flush on the achievement of independence in October 1979, went to the polls again in December of that year. Once more it came out victorious. How much of old Labour’s December luck has influenced new labour (ULP) is hard to say, save and accept that it has gone for a third shy at a December poll.

There are a number of connecting ironies in those December polls. In 1974 for instance it was James Mitchell, then Premier, who was the victim of a “ONE TERM” campaign, his junta not even being allowed to finish its five-year term. (That was also to happen to Mitchell’s NDP in 2001. The irony is that it is Mitchell’s resurgent NDP, now led by his protégé, Arnhim Eustace, which is now branding Gonsalves ULP as ‘ONE TERM,’ vowing to consign it and “Papa” Gonsalves to election oblivion.

More irony. In 1979, in addition to the NDP, the Labour Party faced a formidable threat in the form of the dynamic progressive United People’s Movement (UPM) with Gonsalves, P.R. Campbell, Carlyle Dougan and yours truly being among the prominent figures in a collective leadership. Its response, given the times (revolutions in Grenada, Nicaragua and Iran, people’s power throwing out Patrick John in Dominica, rising Cuba influence in the Caribbean) was to take up red-baiting. Anti-communism of the worst sort was employed with old people being warned about the impending extraction of fingernails, devout Christians scared that churches would be closed, property owners terrified into believing that there would be an end to private property under a UPM government; all those and worse would follow according to the vicious propaganda.

Among those standing firm in the progressive movement were many who did not subscribe to the Marxist-Leninist theories of the UPM’s vocal component YULIMO. But they were, then, sensible enough to recognize the national democratic nature of the UPM’s programme and to reject the nonsensical charges. Irony is it that today in 2005, more than a quarter of a century later and light years advanced in terms of social and technological developments, some of these same people are resorting to the backward tactics of old labour, and the then NDP leadership in 1979.

Anti-communist, anti-Cuban and anti-Chavez attacks of the worst kind are being hurled at Ralph Gonsalves and his administration. Where does that place us? Have we not grown or developed in all of 26 years? Many old people who benefited from the VISION NOW programme can testify to the bounteousness of Cuban generosity. In 1979 many of the same believed that their goose would be cooked under a Cuba-UPM co-operation. To make the ridiculous more obscene, among the loudest ringleaders of the anti-communist, anti-Castro, anti-Chavez bandwagon are those who four years ago would have all but killed you for being critical of their dear Ralph. Whether their hopes and dreams of personal aggrandizement fell through while they were worshipping or whether their own innate backwardness and anti-people nature has finally surfaced, they have now bared their fangs.

They even attack Fidel Castro as “racist”, as “against black people”. Perhaps they should have a word with Nelson Mandela, or is he too, “against black people”? Maybe delving in the Bible “…that He gave His only begotten Son…,” and remembering that the sons and daughters of Cuba gave their lives to break the back of apartheid and pave the way for Mandela’s victory, would help to bring some sanity.

There are issues enough to engage the current ULP administration. And sometimes its own lapses create room for attack. We cannot allow them to become complacent or to slip into the NDP mistakes of post-1989. Any signs of arrogance, impetuousness, triumphalism and “divine right” to rule must be combated early and firmly. But we must keep a progressive head, keep the goals of national development firmly in sight, and oppose the pandering either to backwardness or hero-worshipping. This country of ours has many a road to cross in 2006 and beyond. We must keep our ship steadfast, placing national goals over partisan ones if we are to succeed.

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