A clean sweep and a second chance
THE 'wipeout' of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas's first-term National Democratic Congress (NDC) Administration at Tuesday's general election in Grenada was a stunning political development that has left governance in that Caricom state where it was some 16 years ago — without a parliamentary Opposition.
In sharp contrast, and contrary to the forecasts of pollsters and expectations of some social commentators, the Barbadian electorate, on Thursday, opted to stick with an historical tradition of giving the incumbent party a second chance by returning to government for a second term Prime Minister Freundel Stuart's Democratic Labour Party (DLP), albeit with a narrow two-seat parliamentary majority in the 30-member House of Assembly.
While Thomas's first-term NDC had gone into Tuesday's election for the 15-member House of Representatives amid widespread expectations and poll predictions for a change in government, the 'clean-sweep' triumph of former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's New National Party (NNP) came as more than a surprise. Thomas's own political future as well as that of the NDC's are now up for discussion.
In Barbados, on the other hand, where Prime Minister Stuart's DLP was constantly battling against the odds to avoid poll predictions of being the country's first one-term government, his electoral strategy and firm confidence of victory were to result in a second term with the 16-14 victory. At the 2008 elections, the Dems had secured 20 to the Bees' 10 seats.
On Friday, in a virtual absence of customary frenzied jubilation that had been preceded by a comparative eerie calm on election day, Stuart -- who had remained confident of victory throughout a gruelling three-week campaign — took the oath of office from the governor general to head a new Government for the next five years.
And Owen Arthur, the economist-politician who had three consecutive terms as prime minister, until the January 2008 general election, was left to determine whether to resume the role of official opposition leader and remain head of the BLP, or make way for his very able and crafty former deputy, Mia Mottley, to assume those roles in a new struggle in traditional peaceful multi-party parliamentary governance. More on this aspect later.
While the mere two-seat parliamentary majority could add to Prime Minister Stuart's multi-faceted challenges — not the least being steering an economy that remains in difficult waters at a time of spreading joblessness and rising cost of living--the fundamental democratic nature of the country's political system should prove an enabling factor in ensuring a rule of law environment for stability.
In Grenada, on the other hand, Prime Minister Mithcell NNP's "clean sweep" victory could understandably renew speculations/fears of what generally happens in such a situation. Moreso, that is, in small states with vulnerable economies and the inclination of a governing party to abuse its powers.
Worse, the twin evil of nepotism and corruption tends to thrive more effectively if the Government fails to institute an effective system of checks and balances, or shows interest in encouraging and sustaining meaningful consultation with legitimate social partners and representative institutions.
A professional media colleague from Trinidad and Tobago sent me an e-mail on Wednesday to express concern about "these clean sweep victories... first for the Tobago House of Assembly, now Grenada... Not liking these clean-sweep victories, at all... Wonder what will happen in Barbados."
I told my colleague about my own dislike for such "clean sweep" electoral victories but assured that whatever the official outcome of the general election in Barbados, no such political occurrence is expected.
I also told him that, at worse, for the governing DLP, the electorate could, for the first time, bring an end to a virtual institutionalised pattern of giving the incumbent a second chance. And, even if the voters confirmed poll predictions of likely defeat for the DLP, I still anticipated a respectable outcome to sustain the tradition of a strong and vibrant multi-party parliamentary system of governance in Barbados.
Across in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the redoubtable political tactician, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, continues to demonstrate his ability to maintain democratic governance in the prevailing scenario of a one-seat majority in Parliament.
With the elections in Grenada and Barbados behind us, perhaps some may wish to reflect on what, if any difference, the change in Government in St George's, or the sameness in Bridgetown, could mean for advancing the primary goals of the Caribbean Community, now in its 40th year and struggling against a tide of pessimism and cynicism among citizens of its 15-member countries.