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What motivates persons to contest elections?

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I read with interest, whilst abroad, of the developments in the ULP camp in respect to the choice of a candidate to contest the Central Leeward seat in the upcoming general elections.

Not being privy to the “inside” stories, I was as surprised as any to learn that former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker has been virtually dragged out of retirement to re-enter the political fray and to seek to “hold the fort” for the ULP, come polling day.{{more}}

Clearly it was a very practical solution by the leadership of the ULP, faced with the intransigence of the two contenders, who had ended in a dead heat, with neither willing to give way, for quite understandable reasons. The incumbent, Minister Maxwell Charles, who, coincidentally holds the portfolio of Minister of National Reconciliation, refused to be reconciled to the prospect of being replaced by challenger Dunstan Johnston.

With the Central Leeward supporters hopelessly divided, political leader and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had to draw on his considerable political acumen to find a solution which would reunite the constituency and prevent disaster. Such is the narrow political divide in the country, that neither the governing party nor the Opposition NDP can afford to slip in any one constituency.

Whether Straker’s re-entry will be able to bring all the troops together and to hold the seat for the ULP is left to be seen, but it certainly puts a very different perspective on the contest. In the Labour camp, and certainly outside it, there had been concerns that Charles would not have been able to maintain the party’s grip. Even if all other constituencies voted the same as in 2010, the one-seat majority meant that any loss would result in a change in government. It was as critical as that.

Given the Prime Minister’s touting of his party being the one to lead the way in regeneration, a claim that is not without foundation, it must have taken a lot to force him to have to go back to Straker. So, we can only conclude that the situation must have been considered of a most critical nature. But, as it is said, all things are possible in politics.

To be fair, the ULP’s claims of regeneration have real basis. The appointments of Senators Gonsalves Jr, Jomo Thomas and Luke Browne, along with Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, have brought new life to Parliament and promised much for new ideas. This, along with political pragmatism, may help to soften the impact of having to go back to an apparently rejuvenated Straker. It will be his challenge to prove that senior citizens still have valuable roles to play in our politics, governance and development.

Reflecting on the circumstances which have propelled Sir Louis on the political road again, and generally, the keen rivalries experienced in the selection of candidates to contest general elections on behalf of political parties, one can only ponder what is the motivating factors at the personal levels. Some persons have had to virtually fight a war against their political leadership to gain the nod. Among these, former Minister Jerry Scott of the Opposition NDP stands out, mobilizing constituency support to end up as a bastion in his South Leeward constituency.

Contesting elections and representing constituencies in our political system calls for a lot of personal sacrifice. It is easy for those of us who are not in the hot seat to hurl criticisms, but how many of us are prepared for the experience? It can be financially ruining, personally humiliating and often exposes one’s family to undeserved ridicule and abuse. Your time and privacy are no longer yours or for your family. Yet, there seems to be no shortage of contenders.

Is it the love of country and people, an overwhelming sense of national duty, a commitment to play one’s part in spearheading national development, all noble principles? Or are the motives more sinister, having to do with personal ambition, the quest of fame and glory, or even worse, personal financial reward? Worse, because our politicians are not well paid, comparatively speaking, and lag far behind many managerial personnel in both the public and private sectors. Getting rich through politics cannot come through official emoluments. In making our electoral choices, should we not reflect on such issues?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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