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The Carnival of the masses

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If we thought Carnival is THE festival, the biggest mobiliser of persons then we have a rude awakening. In the last two and a half months we have witnessed Vincentians mobilized on an unprecedented scale and with a regularity that beats all. Never have we seen so many, so often, gathered in one place, week after week, rain or shine, candidate launching or manifesto presentation. Truly, elections must be the CARNIVAL OF THE MASSES.{{more}}

With so much emphasis on crowd rallying and crowd counting, plus the music entertainment and high tech to go with them, it is easy to get lost as to what the election is all about. Of course the usual slogans are there, “Vote for your children’s future,” “Better than the rest”, “Still the best”, and so on. But what is the election really all about? What separates and divides the two opposing armies of red (ULP) and yellow (NDP)? What makes this campaign different?

For the NDP, seeking to regain power after a four and half year exclusion from the position it held for 17 long years, there is no doubt that the campaign is all about “RALPH”, the supposed big bad wolf, the “red terror” or those unmentionable names they call him. Prime Minister Gonsalves is their target and no holds are barred in portraying him as fiscally irresponsible, politically reckless and even a threat to democracy in SVG. For that party, getting rid of Ralph is the prime target towards securing a better future for our country.

But this is a high risk strategy which can, and seems to be backfiring. For sure the Prime Minister’s over enthusiasm and political ruthlessness sometimes results in ill timed utterings, causing one senior NDP member and former minister to remark that Ralph Gonsalves is the NDP’s best asset in trying to win the elections. Fo’ true? Is the future of our country to be decided on what the P.M. may have said that displeased some or was not in the best taste for others?

By contrast the ULP, with Gonsalves undoubtedly the catalyst, motivator and initiator, has an impressive list of achievements to its credit, in only four and a half years. Certainly, criticism of the manner of implementation is well in order, but it is my view that the opposition, like a wayward Patterson Thompson in cricketing terms, is too often bowling down the wrong line, missing the essentials, and hence getting trapped in backward responses rather than in advancing a more progressive platform, a more enlightened approach towards spurring our developmental process. As a result, it becomes mired in the mud of those who see “communism” behind every red rose.

This has allowed the wily Gonsalves to paint the NDP as a party caught up in inertia and encumbered by economic caution. He pooh-poohs their every public statement, characterizing them, not without success, as being crippled by what he calls “learned helplessness.” It allows him to get away with his own excess on the platform and otherwise, and masks the genuine concerns of many, party affliliated or not, on a number of social and economic issues.

So, leadership has become a big issue, perhaps THE issue of the campaign. Yet it is the definition of this, and its acceptance by the electorate which is going to be the deciding factor. Given the fact that not enough has been done by any of the political parties to change the old concepts of leadership, the NDP stands to lose much in this regard. Many of its own supporters still hanker for the leadership style of a Sir James Mitchell, even when the party seeks to portray its current leader, Arnhim Eustace, as cast in a different mould from the flamboyance of the Gonsalves, Mitchell or Joshua type. It is a serious contradiction and barrier to be overcome in an election campaign.

Perhaps this is where our political leaders have most failed us-The ULP in power, like its predecessors concentrated too much on being the Government, trying to deliver all, at one and the same time, even to pamper and spoon feed sometimes. It neglected its promised transformation of the party and by extension its politics and in some constituencies, representatives, like many before them, grew distant from the people. To the P.M.’s credit, he grew even closer despite his phenomenal work-rate. Now those same delinquents in his camp will have to hang onto his coat-tails for rescue. This is not good for either those politicians, the ULP or the country. It will compromise their ability to remain independent-minded in future.

Fortunately there are several positive indications of a solid basis being laid or deepening the democratic process. The Constitutional Reform process and Local Government Reform with all their imperfections are steps in the right direction. They must be completed for the good of us all, their imperfections corrected and more brought on board to take ownership of them. Relations with civil society is another excellent initiative, though one would have to resist the temptation on the part of some in the government and supporters to dictate the terms of such relationship. Diversity, in politics, ideas, programmes, can be a towering strength for us. The pity is that on many of these issues, the opposition has been caught wrong-footed.

We have to insist that the election first results in a clear choice of path of development. Secondly that we finally lay to rest all the retrogressive ideas and practices of the past. Thirdly that it gives a platform, irrespective of your personal choice, for a broad platform for progress, social and economic justice. Fourthly, that it sends a signal to those elected that we expect to be partners with them in a mass movement which would give us all a real say in decision- making. The sacred trust of the people must never again be betrayed.

There are difficult decision to be made and hard times to be faced. Ash Wednesday and Lent follow the traditional Carnival. But if we go through it with faith, vision and steadfastness, surely a bright Easter will emerge.

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