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Caribbean voters not afraid of change
There is growing political sophistication in several Caribbean countries where the electorate is not afraid to change ruling parties based on performance. Case in point is the St Lucia elections of Monday. Preliminary results indicate that St Lucians have reinstated Dr Kenny Anthony and the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) in government, having tossed them out of office five years ago. And again, based on preliminary results, the electorate returned the SLP in the same resounding manner of rejection of December 2006: 11-6 this time around compared to the 3-14 decimation of 2006. However, reports say there are likely to be recounts in an unknown number of constituencies.
Outgoing Prime Minister Stephenson King was deemed not to have the answer to the very difficult economic times over the last five years, exacerbated by the hurricane disaster and the several “wrong turns” he made as Prime Minister. Of course, the reality for Mr King was that he merely inherited the government because of the death of Sir John Compton within one year of him being returned to office and simply did not match-up. As the people in so many other Caribbean countries which have inherited the two-party system from Britain, St Lucians developed politically, being almost tribally loyal to one or other of the parties.
However, the preliminary results which showed a major swing to Labour suggest that the electorate decided that it wanted change and unemotionally voted across party lines to put Dr Anthony and Labour back in power. Whether the SLP can deliver on its promises is a very different question that can only be answered by the passage of time and as the Government seeks to grapple with the economy. Of course, as in so many other countries of the region with a very narrow and restricted economic base, the death of the historically most important crop, bananas, and the dramatic decline in tourist arrivals, the latter being the most recent life-blood of the economy, will take quite some doing to be replaced or restored.
Seeming to appreciate the enormous nature of the problems and not wanting to give any false sense of cause for celebration, Prime Minister Anthony did not declare Tuesday a public holiday, afraid to send the wrong message and interested in backing his statement to the electorate that it is going to be a rough period of recovery. The election results from Guyana, another of T&T’s neighbours to hold a general election on Monday, are not expected before today because of the vast territory to be covered by the electoral machinery. What we do know for sure is that the entrenched two-party system fuelled by traditional tribal voting along the lines of Afro and Indo-Guyanese is still intact. The PPP-Civic is a coalition very much like the People’s Partnership here, dominated by the leading party, the People’s Progressive Party.
What was significant about the approach to the election was the refusal by PPP leader Bharath Jagdeo to change the Constitution to accommodate his possible continuation in the role of President, the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic having decreed that two terms would be the limit for any one leader to contest for office. That is not the tradition of Caribbean political leaders who seek to perpetuate themselves in power long after they have become irrelevant.
Mr Jagdeo, therefore, has done his country and perhaps the region a service by showing that he can comply with the constitutional requirements by giving up office after his term has ended. Although very preliminary reports in a couple areas had the opposition in the lead, it is too early to speculate as to whether there is likely to be any shift in the support base of the PPP, a party with its base in parts of the labour movement and among Indo-Guyanese.
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