ALL AH WE IS ONE: Time for change
Instead of the normal cooling-off period which customarily follows elections, the one-seat triumph of Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) in the December 13 general election in St Vincent and the Grenadines has opened the way for a further heightening of the divisive political tensions that have characterised Vincentian politics over the past 15 years.
This culture of hardened and intractable political separation along party lines has festered like an open wound since 1998 when, ironically, the New Democratic Party (NDP) held a one-seat majority and was forced to an early election defeat in 2001 following a period of civil disorder.
A newly installed Prime Minister Arnhim Eustace was the most visible casualty of that defeat and his politics has since borne the marks and scars of that experience.
Eustace is only human, and the sting of the one-seat defeat, his third consecutive loss, will be sharp indeed. The defeat will be twice as bitter given that it was recently preceded by the sweet taste of what is now a pyrrhic victory in the referendum vote of 2009.
Smell of blood
There is no doubt that Eustace’s successful staging of the “No” campaign in that referendum had removed any possibility of critical support to the government in the period leading up to the election. With the smell of blood in the water, the tactic of the NDP was one of all-out war against any and every government initiative.
More of this is set to continue.
The politics of St Vincent over the next few months will be characterised by noises of Opposition discontent, rumours of floor crossings, and general threats to the stability of the country.
Eustace’s first public comment following the election suggests that he plans, like his Opposition counterparts in Antigua and Dominica, to contest the validity of the election in the law courts. It was also a clear signal to his supporters to adopt a stance of non-cooperation with the government.
It appears, however, that the main lesson of the NDP defeat seems to have been lost on Eustace himself. The lesson is that despite the attractiveness of opposition for its own sake, a new politics may require a new approach.
Indeed, evidence suggests that Eustace’s own instinctive obstructionism was beginning to prove a liability to even Eustace himself when, mere days before the election, he chose to announce a “new financing mechanism” for the international airport which he had always opposed.
Similar intractable stances had been taken against the government’s “education revolution”, and its foreign relations with financial benefactors Venezuela and Iran.
The voting public certainly understood the benefit of those approaches, more than Eustace appreciated.
It is time for new politics. A resignation by Eustace as leader of the NDP would signal his commitment to a new, mature politics.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.