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For whom the bell polls – 1

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Over the next few months this writer will take the opportunity to examine the critical issues at stake in a series of democratic elections to be held both in the region and internationally and their relevance and/or impact on our own situation here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

By the time the first in this series appears, Friday, May 8, preliminary results of the general elections in the United Kingdom will be known. No sooner than we sit down to analyze those results, Guyanese voters will be at their polling booths, on Monday of next week, seeking either to end the nearly quarter of a century rule of the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) or to vote the opposition coalition of the APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) and the AFC (Alliance for Change) into office.

In the upcoming months, elections are due in the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago, expected by September, whilst electors in the neighbouring eastern Caribbean island-states of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are waiting in the wings. So, there is no shortage of election thrills ahead.

Yesterday’s elections in the United Kingdom may well present the British people with constitutional challenges. All pre-election polls pointed to an indecisive finish, with neither the governing Conservatives nor the opposition Labour Party predicted to win a simple majority in Britain’s 650-seat House of Commons. If that turns out to be the case, it will be the second successive election to result in what is called a “hung Parliament,” with no party able to command a majority by itself.

The last time it happened, in 2010, the British electorate had to wait agonizingly for days before inter-party negotiations produced a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (LibDems), a splinter grouping from the Labour Party. The LibDems had ended up with the balance of power and chose the Conservatives as partners in government. However, they may not be as influential this time, having been subsumed by identification with the right-wing policies of the Conservatives, and pre-election polls pointing to them losing some seats.

Interestingly, pundits believe that two groupings, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP), may well determine the shape of the new government. The SNP has ruffled Britain’s feathers by calling for independence for Scotland and only lost, narrowly, a referendum on the issue last year. The possibility of an alliance between the SNP and Labour is worrying much of the ruling class in Britain. But the SNP also opposes the Conservatives plan to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The Conservatives, always skeptical about Britain’s place in the EU, have been forced further to the right by UKIP with its “Britain out of Europe” pledge, its anti-immigration and racist policies. Any alliance of the Conservatives with UKIP, including the LibDems, cannot be good news for Britain’s non-white population, the poor and those forced on welfare. Caribbean people need to be concerned.

Guyana: PPP rule

under threat

Guyana has been plagued with race-based politics ever since the British and Americans worked to undermine the progressive national movement in the sixties, resulting in a predominantly Indian PPP and equally predominantly African PNC (People’s National Congress), led by the late Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham respectively. Burnham was installed with western support in 1964 and his PNC ruled the roost, quite literally for more than 25 years, courtesy of questionable elections.

The PPP under Jagan wrested power from the PNC when there were free and fair elections in 1992 and has been in power since then. But since the passing of Jagan in 1997, there has been a progressive deterioration in governance in Guyana and the party, though winning the presidency in 2010, lost its parliamentary majority, creating difficulties in governing the country.

From all reports, the PPP is facing the fight of its life to retain power. Complacency seems to have set in after 20-odd years in power and many of the stalwarts under Jagan have left the PPP, accusing it of being dominated by former President Bharath Jagdeo and tainted with corruption. Jagan’s own son, Joey, this week launched a scathing attack on the PPP, accusing it of deviating from his father’s vision and of leading the country “down the wrong path”.

Joey Jagan went so far as to endorse the Opposition. He is not alone in doing so. Former West Indies batting star Alvin Kallicharran, who hails from Cheddi Jagan’s home village of Port Mourant, has also come out in support of the Opposition APNU/AFC coalition, another dent in the PPP’s support. It is left to be seen whether the PPP can weather such heavy political storms and maintain its hold on power.

The polls, in the UK and Guyana, may well result in “for whom the bell tolls.”

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com- mentator.

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