KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the rejection of the new constitution during Wednesday’s referendum now allows him to call a general election here as late as 2011.
“In the new constitution, I would have had to call the election at the date, sometime between September 28 next year and December 28. Now, I am not so encumbered so by saying no, they have freed me from a restraint.
So, there is a lot more time then for the government. Whether we use up all the time would depend on a host of factors. There will be no political accidents,” Gonsalves said.
He said under the present constitution that was handed down to the island 30 years ago when it gained political independence from Britain,” the next election can come like a thief in the night, or it can be made in the fullness of time.
“That is what the current constitution gives the Prime Minister the right to do.”
The government fell far short of the 66.7 per cent required to change the constitution and the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which had mounted a “Vote No” campaign, said it was pleased that 55.6 per cent of the electorate had rejected the document following Wednesday’s referendum..
NDP leader Arnhim Eustace as well as political commentators here said that the results of the referendum signal a decline in popularity of the nine-year-old Gonsalves administration.
“Whether the government can recover and rebuild is left to be seen.
Everybody seems to suggest it’s a political vote, and if it is a political vote, it’s serious stuff,” said attorney and political commentator Andrew Cummings said, adding that the government should examine its policies ahead of the next general election.
He said the referendum was an “exercise in democracy…this is a referendum on the government, both parties have time to re-think their positions”.
Eustace said the results of the referendum showed that the population was against “poor governance”.
“I regard the vote as a rejection of a number of government policies and programmes and the attitude they have displayed to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines over these last years and they (people) are sending a message ….we have heard it clearly and we will do what is necessary …. We will help him resign.”
He said as a result, the Prime Minister should call a general election.
“Prime Minister Gonsalves, your mandate to guide the future affairs of this country lies in tatters. In advocating for early elections in 2001, you claimed to have been guided by the voice of the people when over 50 per cent of the people had voted for you in 1998.
“I ask you, therefore, Sir to be consistent with your reasoning. Hasn’t the majority voted against you now? Answer their clarion call: resign and call fresh elections,” he said.
But Gonsalves said that while the result of a referendum represents a “minor setback” in his government’s development agenda, there is no rush to go to the polls early.
The Prime Minister said that this is based on the fact that the voter turnout during the referendum was 7,000 less than in the general elections of 2005, when over 58,000 persons voted compared to just over 51,000 on Wednesday.
He also said that many persons had chosen not to vote on Wednesday.
“The no voters appear to be largely an admixture of the NDP base and some, who have actually succumb to the scare mongering, which turned out to be more successful than we had anticipated,” he said, adding “the government will continue to do its work in accordance with its mandate, delivered overwhelmingly on 7 December 2005”.
“We will continue to pursue the path of economic development as outlined in our policy statement on the building of a modern competitive many sided post colonial economy, which is at once local, national, regional and global.
“We will consolidate our education revolution and expect the same for the housing revolution with health and wellness, physical infrastructure with the international airport and all the important policies and projects for which the people have voted this government into office and expect us to continue to pursue,” Gonsalves said.