Guyana & St. Lucia elections Monday
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – For the first time in the political history of the Caribbean, general elections will be held simultaneously in two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
Voters in Guyana and St. Lucia will have the opportunity of electing governments for the next five years on Monday with political observers saying that the outcome in both countries is far from being a foregone conclusion.
In Guyana, the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) is seeking to maintain its hold on power after 19 years, while in St. Lucia, the United Workers Party (UWP) of Prime Minister Stephenson King is seeking to brush aside the main opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and secure a second consecutive five year term.
In both countries, the elections will be monitored by teams from the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS and the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat.
Unlike previous years, the PPPC, which goes into the election without President Bharrat Jagdeo at the helm, will come up against the minority opposition Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National unity (APNU), the amalgam of opposition forces that includes the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).
Jagdeo has been barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term in office.
APNU believes it has the right strategy for resting power from the PPPC, and has pointed to an internal poll which says it could capture at least 40 per cent of the popular votes, but not enough to give it a working 51 per cent parliamentary majority.
Professor of Economics at the University of Guyana, Clive Thomas said that figure meant that APNU would emerge as the “leading party” in the November 28 regional and general election.
“For the sample APNU emerges as the preferred party for the upcoming elections. The results also reveal our Presidential and Prime Ministerial Candidates enjoy a very high standing among the electorate with a great demand for them to visit several communities,” the coalition said in a statement.
Thomas said there was a 10 per cent gap between the APNU and a second party.
If the poll is factual that means that APNU would secure the presidency but not a 51 percent simple majority control of the 65-seat National Assembly to comfortably pass laws including the budget.
While it still believes Guyana should be a government of national unity welcoming parties from “from every spectrum”, the APNU has nonetheless indicated a preference for working with the AFC, should it fail to gain an outright victory.
“As far as the formation is concerned based on the number of the people in the National Assembly, we would welcome a partnership with the Alliance For Change, we would even welcome partnership with people from the PPP/ C,” said the APNU presidential candidate, retired Brigadier David Granger.
“We have said the door is open, the lights are on; we will welcome in our partnership any political party which shares our principles and we are committed to a government of national unity.”
For its part, the AFC is hoping that the 475, 496 eligible voters will agree with its policies and give it the mandate to run the country for the next five years.
AFC’s presidential candidate Khemraj Ramjattan said his administration’s policies and programmes will include measures to clamp down on crime and strengthen the police force. He is promising to implement the Security Sector Reform Plan and the recommendations of the Disciplined Services Commission Report.
Ramjattan said that the justice system also has to be fixed and the AFC has a plan to ensure quick judgments. He also spoke about plans to build a gold refinery to facilitate value – added activities, while the party’s prime ministerial candidate Raphael Trotman said the AFC will change the political order if it gets into power.
“ Your vote for change and the AFC…will be the first fatal blow that will strike the evil monster of racism, hatred, revenge, criminality, corruption, immorality, and lawlessness,” Trotman said, adding that the AFC guarantees you housing for all ranks who serve a minimum of 10 years in a disciplined force, a 20 per cent increase of salary, better conditions of work and service, equal opportunities for training and advancement through promotion, special allowances and provisions for female ranks who are single parents.”
But the PPPC’s presidential candidate Donald Ramotar has brushed aside the optimism of the opposition groups, promising in the process to be a “President that will listen to the opposition forces and anyone who comes to me with suggestions and proposals that are based on the development of the interest of this country”.
Ramotar, the party’s general secretary, recalls the attempts made for national unity during the period Guyana was under an “undemocratic system that led to the PPP being in opposition.
“We had even proposed to them National Front Government which they rejected and, in 2003 we came out with a proposal, it was presented to the public by President Jagdeo in the presence of myself and Prime Minister Sam Hinds in which we said we were not closing the door to any kind of power sharing but, we believed that we have to build trust in the society that you can’t work within the executive arm of the government unless we trust each other,” Ramotar said. “I would like to continue those things and, to strengthen them and, to have may be more structured discussion with them so that we can see how we can together not see ourselves just as Government and Opposition,” he added.
Ramotar said that no one should have any fear of the PPP Civic government as far as discrimination is concerned because “we have a record that we can point to that we have distributed the resources of this country in a very equitable manner and I think that we can be trusted and I am ready to work with everyone whose interest is for development”.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds has described Monday’s polls as being “very important for the continued development of the Guyanese people and Guyana/
“We are approaching all Guyanese, every voter, on the basis of our tangible achievements and performance, the very evident improvements in Guyana, flowing from our practical policies and programmes implemented in practical ways which match the prevailing circumstances at the time,” he added.
While race is certainly not a factor in the St. Lucia election, one thing is certain however, the polls will be closely followed by Taiwan and China.
When the UWP was swept into power in 2006, it wasted little time in severing diplomatic relations with Beijing in favour of Taipei and the SLP has consistently accused the Taiwanese diplomat Tom Chou of interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
King is hoping to become the first person, other than the late Sir John Compton, to lead the UWP into government and has been pointing to the socio-economic progress the island has made despite the ongoing global economic and financial crisis.
“The United Workers Party administration, has weathered the stormy years of natural disasters and the global financial crisis and is now poised to achieve more robust growth and provide even greater opportunities for all,” King told supporters at a rally here on Sunday night.
“While the opposition steadfastly refuses to acknowledge our outstanding success in managing the economy, the international institutions and global community recognizes our efforts.
“My fellow St. Lucians, what better endorsement can any government receive at a time when most countries around the world, including the Caribbean, are still struggling to recover from the global economic crisis?
“It has not been an easy road for the Government and people of Saint Lucia, but through caring, visionary, competent leadership, the UWP has improved the country’s economic management performance and thereby strengthened the country’s position as the leading economy in the OECS,” King said.
King told supporters that the local economy had grown by 4.4 per cent last year and inflation stood at 1.9 per cent.
But the SLP leader, Dr. Kenny Anthony, whose party has accused the government of engaging in corruption, is urging, not only the business community, but the general population to have faith in “Team St. Lucia” in coming to grips with the problems associated with the global crisis.
“It has to be team St. Lucia as it cannot be otherwise, and how can it be otherwise when we face the prospect of a 24 per cent rate of unemployment in this country. In other words what I am trying to say to you is that the future of this country is really going to be in our hands,” Anthony said.
A total of 151,734 people are eligible to choose representatives for the 17 seats in Parliament and according to newspaper journalist Micah George “we the voters must demand from each political party their vision for a prosperous St. Lucia and choose the best of the lot.
“The good thing going for you the voter is that you have seen how St. Lucia ‘moved’ under the Labour Party. You have also seen how St. Lucia ‘moved’ under the United Workers Party.
“And in choosing the ‘right’ candidate to put in office let us remember that politicians cannot save us. Friendly governments cannot save us. All the Taiwanese money and all the Chinese money cannot save us. We and we alone can save ourselves. And to do that we need to demand and put in place honest, transparent and accountable government,” he wrote in his newspaper column.