PEOPLE & THINGS: Elections déjà vu
By Peter Wickham | Sun, May 06, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Instability in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration of Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas is nothing new since it has been plagued with challenges since its 2008 election.
In many ways, Thomas is unique since he actually won an election and in so doing defeated Dr Keith Mitchell who is eminently stronger and more charismatic.
Notwithstanding, Thomas is more comparable to leaders such as the former prime minister of St Lucia Stephenson King, and Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados, all of whom appear(ed) to be somewhat “unnatural” leaders.
Generally, leaders who fall into this type of classification do not win the types of internal battles within parties that allow them to ascend to the leadership, but take over in situations where a government is handed to them upon someone’s death.
Thomas is therefore unique in this regard and this raises the obvious question regarding the reasons he has prevailed over several more likely candidates in the NDC.
This article will not attempt to answer that question, but instead seeks to make comparisons with the Sandiford administration of 1991-94 which ultimately went under due to a successful no-confidence vote.
Although the date for the Grenada vote is yet to be scheduled, there are already several curious similarities between the two scenarios, not least of which is the leadership style of the two prime ministers which did/does little to help sustain these fragile administrations.
Like the Sandiford administration, the Thomas administration faces major economic challenges brought about by a global recession and, like Sandiford, Thomas also faced internal challenges from party members who were uncomfortable with his leadership style.
A leader can confront challenges from within by using the proverbial carrot or the stick and it is significant that both leaders resorted to the stick with consequences that were (are) devastating for their political parties. In both instances, the political “stick” is only useful in the political short term when wielded by this type of leader.
In the case of Sandiford, he forced his point until three senior ministers had enough and resigned. Shortly thereafter, these gentlemen helped to bring him down in a vote of no-confidence. And even after this, Sandiford used his political stick to call an election, thereby inflicting an obvious defeat on his own party and a somewhat extended sojourn in the political wilderness.
It could be argued that like Sandiford, Thomas’ political stocks at the constituency level were anything but impressive, since he won his seat in the 2003 election by only 45 votes and his party fell one seat short of winning that election which is a political sin that would have ended the career of most Caribbean leaders.
Thomas could be classified as a political “lightweight” who could easily fall victim to internal attacks, the first of which came within a year when he reshuffled his cabinet and prompted the resignation of environment minister Michael Church.
Church has now been followed by tourism minister Peter David and Thomas has himself sacked former minister Joseph Gilbert.
In all of this, the prime minister has been resolute that he is fighting a battle between “good and evil”, which leads one to assume that he represents the good and his opponents (within) the evil that he fights. This battle has now led the Opposition to seek a vote of no confidence which again presents Thomas with several options to use his “carrot” or “stick”.
There is no doubt in my mind that Thomas will resort to the “stick” and hold his ground as he proceeds towards this vote in the same way that Sandiford did in 1994.
He is clearly intoxicated by his mission in politics to fight evil and has presumably enlisted the assistance of the Almighty in this battle.
He has therefore already replaced minister David and in so doing taxed the Grenadian treasury by creating a new ambassadorial post.
The matter of what Thomas “ought” to do is an entirely different matter, since his actions are likely to do little to help the image of the NDC in the medium to long term.
The Sandiford era demonstrated this clearly as his skilful use of the prime minister’s power to maintain his grip, did little to resolve the more fundamental issue of his own political stability.
He therefore triumphed with small victories in the short term, but the Democratic Labour Party paid the ultimate price when the matter was finally put to the voters in 1994.
In like manner, Thomas has met his challengers three times and it is entirely possible that he could survive this vote of no confidence whenever it is called and continue in office until 2013.
His mission of “good” thereafter is likely to be considerably more challenging simply because his weaknesses are well known and evidenced by his inability to keep a government with a seven-seat majority together.
In comparison, Grenadians are acutely aware of the last five years of prime minister Mitchell who existed with the most tenuous single-seat majority without a hint of instability. If, therefore, Thomas is able to “purge” his cabinet and enjoin fresh recruits on his mission of “good”, it will perhaps not be long before a similar situation occurs since he will forever be the same person with the same weaknesses.
Against this background, the most recent poll of public opinion in Grenada is useful since it demonstrated that there was in November 2011 a -2 per cent swing away from the NDC, which is one per cent shy of a defeat. Moreover, a majority of Grenadians nationally indicated that they would be more likely to support the NDC if Thomas were not leading it into the next election.
These statistics are compelling evidence that Thomas is anything but an asset to the NDC at this time and buttresses the opinion that by continuing to force his mission of “good” upon the country, he is merely doing the NDC a disservice.
In a perfect world, Thomas would take the moral high road and exit gracefully while giving his party the opportunity to recapture government in 2013.
However, he seems anxious instead to preside over an NDC defeat and a potentially long sojourn in the political wilderness.
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