ALL AH WE IS ONE: The St Vincent election
The December 13 General Election in St Vincent and the Grenadines provides an opportunity to test the durability of the left-of-centre political parties in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Many of these parties were returned to office in the mid-1990s after long periods in opposition following the collapse of the Grenada revolution. They include Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party, Rosie Douglas’ Dominica Labour Party, Denzil Douglas’ St Kitts Labour Party, and of course Ralph Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party. So far, only Anthony’s SLP has suffered defeat.
An interesting feature of these parties was the reformed left agenda upon which their re-elections were based. While they had played critical roles in the Caribbean labour and socialist movement, the period of political reversal between 1983 and 1995 had facilitated an adjustment of their ideas to the new reality of globalisation and the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism.
The OECS left parties therefore inherited the state following the retirement of conservative strongmen such as James Mitchell and John Compton. The new leaders successfully guided the adjustment out of the old preferential trading arrangements with Britain, and were charged with the construction of new post-colonial economies, in a post-Cold War world.
It is within such a regional historical context that the coming election can be understood. A critical response by Gonsalves was the modernisation of the society and economy. He pursued vigorously the widening of educational opportunities, the construction of an international airport to build a viable tourism industry and to provide an additional pillar beyond agriculture.
To sustain these developments, and to break the dependence on the traditional partners, he widened the foreign policy ambit to include non-traditional countries such as Venezuela, Iran, and Libya. A path had therefore been laid for the creation of a genuine post-colonial economy, although itself constrained by the impact of the Great Recession of 2008.
However, there is a very real possibility that these objective politico-economic developments could mean very little to the Vincentian voter on December 13. Caribbean electorates since 2005 have placed greater emphasis on governance issues (time for change) than on the traditional concerns of economic growth, jobs, infrastructural development other material considerations.
In addition, Gonsalves’ defeat in the referendum campaign has emboldened Arnhim Eustace’s National Democratic Party and provides a marker of the likely outcome of the general election. Further, the personality of Ralph E. Gonsalves, which itself had become a referendum issue, is expected to be a central election issue.
At stake, however, is a left project, conscious of the constraints of the global order but open to anti-systemic opportunities currently emerging in Latin America. Leadership on regionalism may also be a casualty.
Given the current state of regional politics, it would be a grave error, though very likely, that the election will be a vote on the personality of Ralph Gonsalves.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.