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Saunders, Thommo and another clean sweep

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I could not be more proud of an achievement as I am in the appointment of my long-time colleague, Justice Adrian Saunders, as President of the Caribbean’s highest judicial appellate body, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the CCJ. I have great pride in his accomplishments and am also honoured to have been associated with him in his local efforts at national development, which are still to be suitably appreciated. It is yet another example of the proverbial prophet not being honoured in his own land. I shall devote an entire column to him.

Before I get into the focus of this column, I must spare a word of tribute to the late John Thompson, former member of parliament for North Leeward and stalwart of both the SVG Labour Party and its successor, the Unity Labour party (ULP). It was virtually impossible to be more “Labour” than ‘Thommo’, a real political, “in the trenches” man. He had many political battles with my comrades and me, from the days of YULIMO (1974-79) and later the United People’s Movement (UPM), but contentious as he was, he never harboured malice against us.

A distinguishing characteristic of his was his compelling love for debate and engagement. ‘Thommo’ never shirked from such engagement, whether at street corners, on the block, in public forums or on the air waves, he relished political combat. May his soul rest in peace.

ANOTHER CLEAN SWEEP

Grenadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, wrote his name further in the political history books on Tuesday of this week when he led his New National party (NNP) to its third clean sweep of all the seats in the General Elections in his country. In repeating his 2013 triumph, Mitchell became the first Caribbean leader to accomplish successive sweeps, as well as the only one to have achieved it for the third time. He first won all the seats in the 1999 elections, duplicating the feat of his namesake Sir James Mitchell in SVG 10 years earlier. Previously Dr Eric Williams’ PNM had won all 36 seats in the controversial 1971 elections in Trinidad and Tobago, but there was a boycott by the major opposition parties and a turnout of only 33 per cent at the polls.

No matter what one thinks of the politics of Dr Mitchell, one cannot downplay the extent of his achievement. Whatever the circumstances, winning all the seats in a multi-party democracy is no mean feat, and he deserves all the credit for it. He has also been able to steer his country through some very difficult economic storms, virtually biting the bullet to do so. One may disagree with some of his methods and policies, but there is no doubt that he has been able to bring a level of stability, and at a time when his neighbours are riddled with insecurity as a result of criminal violence, Grenada, no paradise it is true, exudes a level of security, which must be an envy for many in the region.

It will be interesting to see how Dr Mitchell will handle this third term without a parliamentary Opposition. He has already called on the defeated Opposition, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to join the social partners –trade unions, private sector organizations, religious groupings and civil society movements – in engaging Government on matters of national development. It is left to be seen how they will respond, as well as how much respect the Government will accord to such engagement.

Finally, the one-party Parliament in a multi-party democracy again raises some important political and constitutional issues. When the situation first occurred, in SVG in 1989, the then Mitchell (James) Government made a hash of it, refusing to contemplate any constitutional amendment which would provide a voice in Parliament, other than the “yea” of the NDP Parliamentarians. It set the basis for the eventual self-destruction of NDP rule.

It is a situation that many political leaders privately crave in their short-sighted quest for power and political self-aggrandisement. In fact, already, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda seems to be relishing the thought. He may well live to regret it. Right across the Caribbean it has become a matter of urgency for us to re-think and re-formulate our constitutional, political and electoral arrangement. Our future development demands it.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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