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The choice is ours

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For the third time in seven years we are witnessing the ultimate political battle between two contending forces in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the holding of General Elections, the legitimate test of their respective support by the electorate. In 1998 and again in 2001, even though the elections provided a winner given our constitutional arrangements, one got the impression that in each case the loser, the ULP in 1998 and the NDP three years later, never really accepted the result as the true reflection of the will of the people. The result has been seven years of virtual non stop campaigning, seven years of serious division among our people on party lines, the last five characterized by bitter hostility.{{more}}

It is impossible in this one article to flesh out all the issues before the electorate, to examine the manifesto and policy proposals, the strategies and tactics, merits and demerits of the contesting parties but at least we have had experience of their respective records and performances, in and out of government on which we can make our own assessment. As polling day nears however, in the midst of all the welcome explosion of popular interest and participation in the process, there is disturbing evidence of the emergence of negative trends.

This past week for instance, the political temperature has been upped considerably with a number of still minor, but worrying nevertheless, skirmishes between opposing supporters. With the climax of the campaign still to come this weekend, it is the responsibility of the leadership of both parties to calm their supporters and rein

in the over-enthusiastic among their ranks. They must give clear messages that despicable acts such as the burning of the NDP’s banner at Sion Hill and attempted assaults of candidates as alleged by ULP candidate Rene Baptiste, will not be tolerated. Party leaders and platform speakers must adhere to the principles to which they committed their parties in the Code of Conduct signed under the aegis of the Christian Council. There are too many “barking dogs” (in a political, figurative sense) loose out there, mike in hand and tongue loosened. An unwise word, an ill-advised insult, can lead to reaction and an ugly situation. We can do without all that. The campaign has gone too far peacefully to allow it to degenerate now. Peace and level headedness are what are required on the home stretch and beyond.

What is at stake for the parties involved? If you listen to both, then you cannot help but deduce that SVG is doomed post election, for each one makes that kind of prediction about life under the other; so what is our judgement call?

The NDP, opposition for the first time since 1984, faces the sort of predicament facing the then Labour Party in 1989, except that, it is in much better health than Labour was then. In particular its leader faces his third straight titanic struggle to retain his seat, a situation that even his predecessor has said will determine his political future. The party has brought to the fore a number of new faces, if not new ideas, but one still gets the impression that it is still smarting from an abrupt end to its scheduled 1998-2003 term and still harping over what it perceives as its forced removal from office.

To its credit, it has managed to re-energize itself and present itself as an alternative. Its manifesto will be too late to influence the electorate but it has put out a document out-lining its perspectives on economic development. The ULP government, it charges, is economically dangerous to the country and therefore needs to go. But the contradiction lies in its own record, particularly the scandalous Ottley Hall scheme, about which a Commission of Inquiry has just submitted names to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal legal action. Has the NDP been able to shed its baggage? Will the electorate be able to forget and forgive?

There are also major issues on which the parties differ and the electorate must choose. The proposed International Airport at Argyle is one, the cross country road is another, the much touted education revolution is another. The NDP will have to present clear alternatives having been so critical of such projects. The pity is that it has allowed itself to back away from the more enlightened initiatives of the ULP. It will be difficult for it to lead our country forward with backward blinkers, in particular it will have to, in government or opposition, drastically review and revise its position of virtual hostility to organized civil society. You just cannot progress on that basis in the 21st century.

For the ULP, beautiful manifesto or not, it must stand on its record. This had been impressive in terms of the number of projects undertaken but on the eve of elections, it must be puzzled, if not downright worried, about the size of NDP’s support and its resilience in the face of all that has been thrown at it. If it has done so much good for the working people, as it undoubtedly has, why are so many working people, thousands, still in opposition to it? Is it the message or the messenger? The projects or the manner of implementation? Or is it communication?

Above all, it is we the people who must make the CHIOICE, choice not just in terms of party or candidate next Wednesday, but CHOICE in terms of our path of development and critically our role in it. Are we, after all the mobilizing simply to lie down and go back to sleep, or are we going to resolutely engage whatever government emerges to demand that it bends to the will of the people and to insist that people centred politics, people centred policies, people centred actions become central to our progress. The CHOICE IS OURS.

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