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Dis election cudda, shudda, bin different

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As the two major parties step up their campaigns for the December 13 poll, one cannot help but ask, “What’s new this time? What is there to bring genuine fresh excitement?” Apart from a few new faces, mostly young, we are left with the old battle between the ULP and NDP, which has been fought time and time again since 1998. We still have to contend with a choice that largely revolves around Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, his detractors making this the central focus of their attack.{{more}}

Fundamentally, the campaign is very similar to those of the past three elections, save that there is an intensity to the opposition challenge. This is born out of a deluded confidence that stopping Dr. Gonsalves in his attempt to have a new Constitution approved last year, would by itself be a recipe for general election victory, and a growing fear that the anticipated victory could again slip through its fingers. One can sense the latter by the persistent concerns being expressed that the elections may be rigged. While the Opposition has every right to be extremely vigilant and to guard against complacency, the danger is that, if the results do not turn out as expected, not all will be mature enough to resist temptations to let frustrations run riot.

The announcement of the election date itself was clouded in controversy with arguments back and forth that the date was changed after the Opposition leader pre-empted Dr. Gonsalves’ announcement. Those arguments are still raging, with a member of the PM’s media team embroiled in the fray. But if truth be told, in terms of the future of our country, what is the relevance of this “debate”? Should we not be spending our time in a more meaningful way, examining and debating policy options that would help to take our country forward and enrich the standard of living of the vast majority of Vincentians? What does all this bickering prove?

The reality lies in the nature of the Constitution of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, the Constitution which came into effect on October 27, 1979, and still obtains today. It is that Constitution, not any security penetration by the Opposition, nor divine guidance on the part of the Prime Minister, which put us in the situation that we are in at present. It gives the incumbent Prime Minister the sole right to determine when elections are called, and, whether he be Cato, Mitchell, Eustace or Gonsalves, to play with our minds in the process. Maybe to change it would have deprived us of the cheap excitement and speculation. But we COULD HAVE done so, in November last year, and, COULD HAVE had instead a fixed date for elections. We SHOULD HAVE avoided the unnecessary distractions.

To a large extent, emotions and personal issues are too much a part of the campaign still. Talk-radio for instance, is rife with all sorts of irrelevancies. It is something to which the Opposition in particular needs to pay attention, including trying to get its supporters to focus on the major issues before the electorate and country. Attacking all kinds of persons left, right and centre, can turn out to be counter-productive in that it can alienate important sections of the population. Many persons so vilified, may turn out to be persons sorely needed in the national development effort, should the NDP manage to emerge victorious at the polls. We COULD do much better than this in the election campaign. We SHOULD make every effort to do so.

This lack of intelligent debate says a lot about the state of our national consciousness. After all the hard work, starting from the late sixties and continuing through the seventies and eighties, it is disheartening to discern that many of the issues on which we should be concentrating are still not understood by many of us. That is why the politics of personality continues to be prominent and why lies and slander meet with such a favourable reception. The most dramatic demonstration of this came during the referendum debate, and to date, those misled then, are no wiser. Not just those who voted NO, but even some who voted in favour without comprehending why they did so. Prime Minister Gonsalves has many achievements to his credit, but even he must say to himself that his work is incomplete if he fails to inspire the development of the national consciousness. He and the ULP COULD HAVE made a far bigger contribution to effecting this task, which would have made their own quest for re-election that much easier. They SHOULD HAVE paid more attention to the building of the national movement.

When you sum up all these issues, one cannot help but rue the fact that this election exposes how far we have to go in our thrust, not only for material development, but also in development of the mind and spirit. We have come a long way, in material terms, in the quality of our housing, in lifting health and educational standards, but what of progress in enriching social consciousness? Do we have a greater appreciation of the challenges facing us as a people? Are we more tolerant of views which may not coincide with our own?

Those questions should be underlying our choices as we approach the next elections. They should be influencing the type of campaigns in which we SHOULD be engaged. If we had paid attention to such matters, if we had approached the referendum on the Constitution in a more mature manner, if we had taken time to build the instruments of collective governance and democratic participation, DIS ELECTION CUDDA BIN VERY DIFFERENT. DIS ELECTION SHUDDA BIN MUCH DIFFERENT.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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