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Another round of Caribbean elections

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Voters in at least five Caribbean countries, three in the CARICOM bloc, and two Spanish-speaking nations, are expected to exercise their precious right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections over the next three months.It is a right that had to be fought for and won by the oppressed peoples of these countries in the fight against slavery, colonialism, foreign domination and minority rule, stretching over hundreds of years.

In the western-style parliamentary democracies of CARICOM, Grenada will lead the way with general elections fixed for March 13. Ironically, that date marks the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution in that country, which temporarily put an end to the Westminster system of elections, before the Revolution devoured itself four years later, leading to the restoration of parliamentary elections in 1984.

No doubt, the choice of the March 13 date by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell is not just a coincidence. Dr Mitchell is seeking, not only re-election in what he says will be his last joust at the polls, but will also be aiming to further cement his place in history, by once more leading his party to a clean sweep at the polls. If successful, it will be the third time that he has achieved this feat, having already recorded 15-0 victories in 1999 and again in 2013.

His Barbadian counterpart, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, is in no such comfortable situation. The five-year term of his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration ended on Wednesday, February 21, and he has only 90 days in which fresh elections must be called. His party is under serious political pressure, with Barbadians facing dire economic circumstances, but he has resisted calls for an early poll.

However, the day of reckoning is fast approaching and, twist or turn, he and the DLP must face the music. Opinion polls, particularly a recent one by respected Caribbean pollster Peter Wickham, indicate that the DLP will lose when the election is called. Thus, 70 per cent of persons polled said that they believe that the Government is “on the wrong track”, with only 10 per cent approving of its handling of national affairs. Similarly 71 per cent thought that it is “time for change”.

Opposition Leader Mia Mottley can be pleased with the poll, with just over half of those polled (52 per cent) preferring her to lead the country. PM Stuart was favoured by only a measly eight per cent, whilst unpopular Finance Minister Chris Sinckler, blamed for his handling of the economy, could not even muster one per cent approval. But polls are not always right and a three-month campaign is not to be taken lightly.

Judging by statements from Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne, that country may well go the electoral route soon, fully a year before it is constitutionally due. Poll watchers there have been speculating that PM Browne may indicate, as soon as this weekend, when he will call the next general elections. The Prime Minister is comfortably in the lead in the polls, his 49 per cent approval rating being nearly twice that of the Leader of the Opposition party, Harold Lovell. His efforts at leading the recovery efforts in the wake of hurricane Irma can only help to boost his chances.

COMMENTS

It will certainly be interesting to follow all three elections, albeit in different circumstances. However, there are some features which stand out, sometimes more relevant to one situation than the others.

One is certain to be the economic situation and the perception of how the current governments have been weathering the global storms which have hit these countries hard. In Grenada, Dr Mitchell seems to have benefitted from favourable pass marks by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Whether the reality and actual experience is different is another matter, but that perception exists.

By contrast, the Barbados government is heavily blamed for the economic rut in which the country finds itself. No matter how hard PM Stuart or his embattled Finance Minister try to lay the blame on external circumstances, Barbadians seem to feel that their stewardship has been found wanting in difficult times. If this feeling persists, it would be difficult to see how the DLP can win.

These are relevant not just to those countries, but to the rest of the region as well. In addition, in parliamentary democracies like ours, it is important for those in opposition to the government to be able to win the confidence of voters that they can do better. Dissatisfaction with the government is one thing; instilling confidence in voters is another matter. In both Antigua and Grenada, the Opposition forces seem to be lacking in this regard. Whether Mia Mottley can overcome this hurdle in Barbados is left to be seen.

NEXT WEEK: CUBA AND VENEZUELA TOO

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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