ALL AH WE IS ONE: St Lucia looms
The beginning of the cycle of the “time for change” elections in the Caribbean between 2006 and 2008 can safely be traced to St Lucia in December 2006.
Following the surprise victory of a returned John Compton and his United Workers Party (UWP), several Caribbean elections simply followed suit.
Between December 2006 and July 2008, the governments of St Lucia, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Belize and Grenada all fell to opposition challenges. Only Patrick Manning’s People’s National?Movement (PNM) (November 2007) was able to buck the trend, then to be removed by the Peoples’ Partnership in an early election in May 2010.
It was not until the Antigua election of March 2009 that the tide of incumbent defeats was reversed, with Roosevelt Skerrit, in?Dominica, Denzil Douglas, in St Kitts-Nevis and Ralph Gonzalves, in?St?Vincent and the Grenadines, all managing to retain power.
It is because St Lucia was such a pivotal point in the shift to new regimes that its coming election on November 28 suggests the beginning of a new cycle, and is of importance to all the Caribbean governments formed after 2006. The November election is significant not only as a statistical marker, but also because many of the issues which explain the defeat of the Kenny Anthony administration in December 2006 had manifested themselves in the succeeding Caribbean elections.
Most of the governments facing defeat in the 2006-2008 period had introduced fairly successful economic and social programmes. For example, Anthony had satisfactorily managed a transition out of bananas, Owen Arthur had saved the Barbadian economy from the 1990-1994 International Monetary Fund (IMF) scenario, and Keith Mitchell, of Grenada, had managed a smooth recovery from the ravages of Hurricane Ivan.
After two or three terms of unchanged governments, and on the back of fairly decent economic performances, Caribbean voters felt fairly secure in placing governance issues above economic considerations. Thus, charges of corruption, arrogance, lack of transparency and accountability and calls for good government were central motifs of the “time for change” theme song.
A clearer example of the unfolding of J. K. Galbraith’s “culture of contentment” will be difficult to find.
Five years later, however, the looming St Lucian election heralds an opportunity to examine whether the Caribbean electorate remains unmoved. Whilst there are issues specific to St Lucia such as the insecurity associated with the post-Compton leadership and crime, in all the Caribbean countries the real challenge lies in the economy. Global recession has thrown everything asunder.
Moreover, many of the new governments have failed to fulfil their governance pledges, such as the promised integrity legislation, adding political insult upon economic misery.
For all these reasons, the St Lucia election may mark a new cycle whose ripples may touch the shores of its politically conjoined neighbours. Its results will provide useful hints of the Caribbean’s political future.