The 2015 general elections are over but the traditional two-party contest has left St Vincent and the Grenadines a politically divided country. The outcome has shown that the governing party, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was returned to power with 8 seats, while the New Democratic Party (NDP) won the remaining seven seats.
The result is a carbon copy of the 2010 general elections results.
And that is political history being made in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Here is why. On all previous occasions in SVG when a political party won an election with only a one seat majority in parliament, that party has always lost the very next general elections. Even the NDP was counting on history to repeat itself. But history recreated itself instead.
The interesting thing to note is that both parties won the exact seats or constituencies which they won (or lost) in the 2010 general elections.
But the reason for this post is to stress the obvious deterioration in the levels of peaceful campaigning and acceptance of results by the party which has been striving to take the reins of power in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the NDP. Now, before I comment further on my observations on this, I am going to share my own political experiences as an enthusiastic voter when I attained the age of eligibility to cast my ballot.
I first voted in the 1994 general elections. Which party did I vote for? What factors contributed to my decision in 1994 when I was a virgin voter? Well, it goes back to the year 1984, when as a young child I sat on the wooden bench in the backyard kitchen with my mother as she peeled the ground provisions for that day’s lunch. Campaigners from the NDP passed by. They were sharing out the relevant posters and leaflets with the candidates contesting the elections.
It was the first time I was seeing and getting to know who James Mitchel was. “The man who would become prime minister,” according to my mother. And sure enough the NDP won the elections. I was just in Junior 2 at the time(grade 3 today).
Then, courtesy of the Vincentian newspaper and the Government Information Service (GIS) I was able to follow much of the workings of James Mitchel and his ministers. I give them credit for bringing electricity and telephone service to my childhood rural village. I also give them credit for the construction and opening of many, many roads, clinics, post offices and schools across the island. They also helped many suffering elderly people to finally access pipe borne water right in their own homes.
But as an aspiring student growing up in the 80s and 90s I always felt that the government of the day was not seeing or valuing the human resource potential in the country. I remember thinking just how hard–if not futile–it was to continue one’s education after completing secondary school. And even getting to secondary school was a stressful competition. Just one mark in the then Common Entrance Exam often ended the education pursuits of many ordinary students.
Getting into the sole Form 6 at the St Vincent Grammar School (A’ Level) was another competitive big deal. Throughout all of SVG, only one or two annual scholarships were being given out. And often times, the awardees would have surnames which inferred that their parents already had finances which could have paid their way through university in any case.
Additionally, by 1994 I had begun to feel that our prime minister was somehow taking the country for granted. This conclusion came specifically from more than one Independence Day parade and speech ceremony which James Mitchel would have missed because he was overseas at the time. Yes, leaders need to travel, but certainly you can reschedule or designate someone to take your place when your country’s Independence Day comes around.
Nevertheless, the NDP was being celebrated nationally as the government of choice. But I was learning at school that we had a democratic system. I was not seeing democracy at work if the same party was winning all the general elections. I felt stifled. I felt that NDP owned the country. You should know that in the 1989 general elections the electorate gave ALL the seats in parliament to the NDP.
That in itself was historic!
So for five years, from 1989-1994, St Vincent and the Grenadines had absolutely no opposition in parliament. As young as I was, I realized that was NOT a good situation for any people–not even if you are a supporter of the ruling party. It was in that time that former owner of the Vincentian newspaper, Edgeton Richards, started his weekly column called People’s Parliament, which attempted to be a national opposition voice in the country.
So, with all these experiences, when I voted for that first time in 1994, I voted for an opposition. Now, a sad thing about the electorate’s voting pattern in SVG, is that persons always feel that they must vote for the same party all the time. But I think that kills democracy.
The NDP won the 1994 general elections, quite comfortably I might add. I felt bad but now there were three opposition members in the parliament. Then in 1998 the bell rang again and Vincentians went back to the polls. I voted the opposition because it was evident that the NDP was running out of capital projects, the leader was not an ordinary Vincentian who mixed with commoners, and the human resource continued to be ignored.
But I felt the sense of disappointment, shame of defeat and confinement once again to the political wilderness as a supporter of an opposition party for a further five years.
But whether or not our party won, we all rallied, respected, and rated the country’s prime minister as our prime minister. Then in 2001, sensing that hope was about to give birth to much needed political change, I voted once more for the opposition.
This time the change came.
I recalled that on that night, March 28, 2001, the broadcasters of the results did not say that a new government had come to power in the country. They just ended the broadcast as though nothing significant happened.
Today, in 2015, supporters of the NDP are feeling the agony of political defeat. It is hard to bear. But I know how it feels. In the days leading up to the general elections, I heard a radio announcer on Nice radio, literally cursing, and using the word “hell” in order to campaign for the NDP. I thought how disturbingly sad. The radio was traditionally an instrument of good will. Now, because of politics, people are cursing on it.
Throughout various communities, supporters of the two main parties also seemed ready for a physical battle which could start at any time. In North Leeward, the ULP candidate said that he had to resort to pulling his gun after getting no relief from the throwing of bottles on the roof of a shop where he and his supporters had run to for cover from NDP supporters.
In that same constituency, the NDP candidate, who later retained his seat in the 2015 general elections, declared that there are some places he is afraid to go to hold political meetings.
And do not talk about Sion Hill. The street alone separated the ULP’s red from the NDP’s yellow. It was tit for tat campaigning there. Although the NDP leader retained his seat in that constituency, it was interesting to note that his margin of victory was one of the narrowest in the entire general elections. And he ran against a very young ULP candidate.
The NDP is also claiming that the ULP stole the elections by cheating and so winning the Central Leeward seat, now being represented by Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Luis Straker.
On the morning following the elections, the NDP asked supporters to gather at the Layou Police Station to witness the recount of the votes. I saw a video clip of the leader of the NDP right up in the face of Luis Straker. The atmosphere and the body language, as well as words being spoken, suggested to me that the political leader of the NDP was getting ready to physically hit the ULP’s candidate for Central Leeward, Luis Straker.
Today, NDP supporters are protesting in the capital city, Kingstown, outside the prime minister’s office, hours before the ULP holds a public rally in Kingstown where the portfolio of ministers will be announced. I also heard citizens in Kingstown saying that NDP supporters were talking of shooting individuals, as well as saying that they intend to burn down houses.
Now, having supported a party in opposition in years gone, I know it is painful to see your party still in opposition after an election, but the animalistic verbal utterances are dangerous signs of reaching a political cliff.
And we must remember that active politicians of the two main parties are pretty much like Hollywood movie stars. They play a certain public role. But whatever the results of elections are, their bread is already buttered (as we would say in our Vincentian culture). The prime minister alluded to the fact that the leader of the opposition (NDP leader) is being paid $180 000 per year. That works out to about $15 000 every month.
Politicians are on easy street but it is sad that it is the commoners who are more and more literally ready to kill their fellow Vincentian for a political party. And for most citizens, their individual lives will experience very little visible, measurable or permanent improvement, no matter which party is in government.
The Supervisor of Elections here in SVG just released a statement of her reflection on the 2015 general elections. In it she speaks of being verbally harassed at her office by NDP supporters and their lawyers. She cites an instance where she gave a public figure in the NDP permission to take pictures of one of the ballot boxes during the recount in the Central Leeward constituency, only to find out later that the person used that footage on social media as their evidence that a ballot box was stolen.
The Supervisor of Elections had to be given direct police protection and escort as she moved about to fulfil her duties. In fact, armed police guards had to be deployed when the ballot boxes and other election documents were being transported from their respective constituencies. Such was the case before the leader of the ULP could have been sworn in as the country’s prime minister for a fourth term.
The question is: How many other general elections can St Vincent and the Grenadines peacefully survive in the future? Steps must be taken now to preserve democracy in our electoral system if we are to give future generations any possibility of living in this country.