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It’s now up to us

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The cases have been made, charges and counter-charges issued and rebuffed, and, amidst the cacophony of the loudspeakers and deafening music, the Vincentian electorate is preparing for its big moment of decision – casting the vote on Election Day, December 9, 2015.{{more}}

As has been the case since 1994, the general elections will again be a two-way fight between the major contending forces, the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). The minor contenders, the oddly-named Democratic Republican Party (DRP), led by Mrs Anesia Baptiste, a defector from both major camps, and Ivan O’Neal’s Green Party, are not expected to be of more than nuisance value on election day.

Going into the polls, the fortunes of the governing party will no doubt be boosted by the latest results of the poll conducted by the Caribbean’s most prestigious pollster organization, the Barbados-based CADRES, led by the renowned Peter Wickham. In its final pre-election poll, CADRES tips the ULP to again emerge victorious on December 9, a prediction hotly contested by the NDP.

Should Wickham prove to be right, it will continue the run of luck enjoyed by the ULP and its predecessor, the SVG Labour Party, in elections held in the month of December. The ULP’s narrowest victory was its come-from-behind narrow one-seat win in 2010, but previous to that there were handsome Labour victories in 2005 (12-3), 1979 when it won 11-2 over an array of opponents, including the then Gonsalves-led United People’s Movement, and before that, on December 9, 1974, when Labour won a famous 10-2-1 victory, invoking memory of the Mighty Sparrow’s classic of that name. Perhaps that was in the thinking of PM Gonsalves in fixing the election date!

But scientific or not, election results have, at times, confounded pre-election polls and the NDP would no doubt try its utmost to avoid a fourth successive loss. Perhaps the disclosure of the CADRES results may spur it to new heights in its bid to regain power. From a personal perspective, “heights” would be much more appropriate, since in its propaganda, it all too often strays in the opposite direction.

It has been prone to be overly-aggressive, making a number of serious, but unproven allegations against, not only political opponents, but citizens as a whole, casting doubt on its own soundness of judgement and alienating it all too often. Even mild criticism is met with hostility and if it does become victorious, the party will have to re-examine whether this is a recipe for social cohesion, so necessary for good governance.

Its continued attacks on the integrity of the electoral process have fallen flat in light of the dignified responses of the Supervisor of Elections and her dedicated staff and one is at a loss to conclude what benefits it perceives from the announcements of its battery of lawyers being invited to observe. Our election system has never had its integrity challenged, as attested by the conclusions of all previous Observer Missions – CARICOM, OAS, Commonwealth and our own National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism.

To the credit of the NDP though, it has made efforts to put forward development plans of its own, including its highly-touted new hospital and cruise ship berth in North Leeward. These have helped to try and change the “oppositionist” reputation with which it has saddled itself. Whether it will be enough to overcome the formidable barrier of the ULP is left to be seen.

As is to be expected with any long-standing incumbent, the ULP will stand on its record of achievement. While undoubtedly there have been weaknesses and shortcomings, that record is quite impressive, particularly if one is to take the unfavourable economic climate of post-2008 in mind. But it too, recognizing a political advantage, has allowed the NDP to focus the entire debate, the entire campaign, around one person, Dr Gonsalves. Fourth term or not, the ULP must begin to re-orient itself away from this one-man focus for the good of the country.

Thus, once again, leadership will be a very important factor in the elections. This is a discussion which needs to be deepened nationally in the years to come. In particular, the role of citizens, of civil society, of the place and function of local government, of citizens “owning” their own communities, schools, social institutions and being meaningfully involved are issues which we must put on the agenda of any future government.

We need to heal the deep divisions, rise above the muck and nastiness on which too much of our campaigning is based. This is our country and we need to claim it in a positive way. Casting a positive vote towards the future is one sure start, but we cannot then retreat and leave it up to the politicians and the old ways. The future depends on us.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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