In the absence of any late, dramatic and earth-shattering moves by the political parties, the next General Election, constitutionally due by December of 2011, promises to be the most non-defining poll in the nation’s history. By any measure, this is not going to be an Obama-style election based on fundamental change. This is not going to be a wave election. The major difference will be which of the parties can effectively mobilize and energize its base to come out and vote.
The issues facing the St Lucian electorate have not changed since the last election. When the people voted the last time around they went for the familiar. Kenny Anthony was dumped after two unopposed terms in office for an 82-year-old John Compton. The return of Compton was perhaps the biggest political recycling project ever undertaken by an electorate. It facilitated the most absurd comeback and raised questions about the wisdom of a party, forcing upon an elderly statesman the rough and tumble, raging election campaign with little regard to his failing health. What indeed did it profit the United Workers Party to have won the last election with the octogenarian Compton at death’s door?
As it turned out, Prime Minister Compton was subsequently summoned to the hallowed halls of Valhalla, for the greatest reunion of all times, starring big brother George Odlum! There to figure out why in life as in death they both left a nation saddled by debt, illiteracy, mismanagement and more importantly a nation completely divided against itself into two hostile and uncompromising political parties.
What is it about the savage political divide that colours every decision red, yellow and the newest color green? What is it about this country that can give birth to two Nobel Laureates, but cannot fashion a political system that does not provide for the cutting of throats and back stabbing? Why must all Labour Party supporters be described as thieves and all United Workers Party followers be viewed as terrorists? What is it about our orientation that prevents us from conducting a civil debate about issues without the name-calling and bitterness and outright hatred towards each other? Is there something about our genetic disposition that prevents us from discerning right from wrong, especially when that wrong is against our own interest?
When the December 2006 election was held the country was engulfed by a crime wave that was tearing away at its moral fabric. The United Workers Party, then in opposition, made crime the major issue, laying blame squarely at the doorstep of the Labour government. They promised to deal with the menace, but under their watch the crime situation has not subsided. There are those who argue that things have gotten worse and the St Lucia Labour Party is obviously poised to contest the next election campaign with the mantra, “Are you safer now than you were five years ago?” It is justifiable politicking and convenient strategy but is it best for the country? It is a fact that crime does not discriminate; it is detrimental and destructive to all and sundry. The latest senseless and brutal killing of Mama tears at the heart of every St Lucian.
Crime is no respecter of parties or persons. It is simply evil, and party politics should not prevent St Lucians from uniting in the fight against crime. So, the Labour Party must ensure that this issue is given a nationalist platform. Winning an election may be important but the security of the nation and the saving of lives should override all political calculations.
This is going to be a simple status quo election, for the choices will be holding on to an indecisive King administration or returning to an unrepentant Kenny. The mathematicians will argue that nothing from nothing leaves nothing. While I am not prepared to make an endorsement of any of those gentlemen at this time, it is my candid opinion that King was handed a poisoned chalice. It is also my unvarnished opinion that Kenny has been found wanting for gross mismanagement of the nation’s scarce financial resources. The green colour-coded party, the newest on the block, is not yet ready for prime time. So the election will really be between the two established political parties (St Lucia’s Republicans and Democrats).
Another factor that will decide the election will be the state of the economy. Obviously, the government will argue that considering what it inherited and the world recession it has been able to hold on without the imposition of massive austerity measures. It will say despite a punishing Hurricane Tomas, the recovery and rebound was perhaps the fastest in the nation’s history. The opposition will undoubtedly counter that the government has politicized the disaster and has mismanaged relief efforts. It will also question the priority of the government and denounce the huge contracts that have been assigned to Asphalt and Mining. It will take to task the bidding process.
Another big issue will be the raging debate about how to deal with the nation’s young people. The opposition will make youth neglect and handling of issues such as the scholarship for students a major platform. They will argue that the King government has not shown an iota of interest in youth development and, if skillful in their presentation, will try to make a nexus between the unrelenting crime wave and the country’s disengaged youth. The government will return to its old election themes of Labour’s lost years and Kenny’s two wasted and profligate terms. Rochamel will again be on the front burner and Kenny’s documented mismanagement will become platform manna from heaven. If the Labour Party had mustered the courage to act decisively in replacing Kenny after his last whipping at the polls, there would not be this vacuum of enthusiasm.
It is clear that the government will be facing the brunt of the public outcry. After all, there were promises made during the last election (including 7000 new jobs in its first financial year) that have not been kept. There was time lost with internal party infighting and the government for the better part of its first year in office appeared to have lost its way. There are those who have argued that the staying power of this government had more to do with the lack of a concerted strategy from the opposition.
In addition, the Labour Party took the very unpopular decision to hold on to Kenny as leader when it was clear that the electorate would have preferred a reorganized and revitalized party. An infusion of fresh ideas in the reshuffle of the leadership deck may have given the Labour Party a clearer shot at an outright victory whenever the election is announced. But, unless there is divine intervention for the Labour Party, the decision is sealed in stone
and the electorate will be forced to go to the polls holding its breath for the lesser of two evils—King or Kenny.
By default the Labour Party stands a very good chance, but this is politics, and between now and election day anything can happen to move people to the polls. If the last election is any guide, a jaded and battered nation may again return to the familiar and Dr Kenny Anthony will be king of his kingdom once again. The recycling process will then be completed. It will be an interesting 2011 and I hope to be on the ground at some point.