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Caribbean Electoral Swings
The recent electoral verdicts in Grenada and Barbados have confirmed the continued trend of peaceful democratic turnovers of power (Grenada) or renewals of power (Barbados). In the case of Grenada, it was the fifth time that an independent state had had a clean sweep at the polls by one party. Previous clean sweeps have taken place in Trinidad and Tobago (1971), Jamaica (1983), St Vincent and the Grenadines (1989) and Grenada (1999).
Unlike the Westminster model in the United Kingdom where such an occurrence is most unlikely owing to the size of the House of Commons, such eventualities are possible in small island states where a big electoral swing can see all of the elected seats in a legislature being captured by a single party or a no-vote campaign can see enough persons staying at home to permit a clean sweep.
As functioning democracies, the Commonwealth Caribbean has seen both. In the larger territories of Trinidad and Tobago and of Jamaica, their respective no-vote campaigns in 1971 and 1983 produced single-party outcomes that their constitutions handled differently.
In the case of T&T, there were no provisions for handling this situation which put the Governor General, Sir Solomon Hochoy, in an awkward position. His response was to declare the post of Leader of the Opposition vacant and therefore no Opposition senators were appointed.
This formula was copied by President Richards some 42 years later when he was faced with a clean sweep in the Tobago House of Assembly elections of January 2013. As it stands now, the THA, like the Parliament of T&T in 1971 is not completely constituted and there is no opposition to check the ruling elite.
In the case of Jamaica, their constitution, at Section 81, makes provision for the conduct of state business by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, in place of the Leader of the Opposition, where there is no Leader of the Opposition. The problems that arose in Trinidad and Tobago in 1971 did not arise in Jamaica in 1983 after their no-vote campaign general election.
In the cases of St Vincent and the Grenadines (1989) and Grenada (1999 and 2013), these are small Parliaments with 15 elected MPs each. In the case of St Vincent, it is a unicameral or single-chamber Parliament in which both elected and nominated members sit together, while Grenada is a bicameral or two-chamber Parliament with a House of Representatives and a Senate.
Section 55(2) of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution makes it possible for the Governor-General to act in his own deliberate judgment in cases where there is no Leader of the Opposition. Section 62(2) of the Grenadian Constitution makes the same provisions as well.
In T&T, the Constitution was repealed and replaced in 1976, but the new provisions in section 83(6) only permit the President to act without consultation of the Leader of the Opposition when no one holds the office. No provision has been included to address the situation where the advice of the Leader of the Opposition is required.
Polls and electoral swings
As regards the electoral swings that can cause clean sweeps in small legislatures, it must be appreciated that the methodology used by some pollsters is one in which they try to measure electoral swings by calculating the swing required for a constituency or district to change hands and applying the swing analysis of their national polls in individual districts.
There was no problem with understanding this in Grenada where the swing was quite large away from the incumbent Government towards the Opposition. However, in the case of Barbados, the polls were wrong primarily because the adverse swing against the Government was not enough for it to lose power to the Opposition.
There was much debate in Barbados about the final poll that was issued two days before the general election that showed a late surge for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) which seemed to contradict the poll issued on the Sunday before the election that showed a much tighter race. Indeed, the Sunday poll seemed to have been more accurate than the Tuesday poll.
The reality is that in both Grenada and Barbados the issue of political divisiveness dearly had an impact at the polls. In Grenada, former prime minister Tillman Thomas endured a never-ending battle to hold his government together with dismissals at various levels as he failed to keep the NDC together which helped the NNP and Dr Mitchell to recapture power.
In Barbados, the very public split between Owen Arthur and Mia Mottley of a few years ago when Mottley was removed by Arthur to become Leader of the Opposition (after he had handed over leadership to Mottley following the defeat of 2008) came back to haunt the party in the campaign.
The reality is that Arthur has now stepped down for a second time and Mottley has taken over the party for the second time all within the space of five years. The key to defeat in Grenada (NDC) and Barbados (BLP) was influenced by disunity among other factors.
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