Monday, December 27, 2010

by Oscar Ramjeet

I have been following the general elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines very closely, as I did with the November 25 referendum last year. In fact, I have written several commentaries about them.

I must say that I am not at all impressed with the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). He is flip flopping and does not deal with the important issues, and moreover he makes statements that he cannot support. For example, he alleged fraud at the general elections. He said that there were reports of persons voting in constituencies where they do not live and that voters attempted to vote twice, adding that the NDP was particularly concerned about the outcome in two constituencies won by the ULP.

Eustace's alleged fraud statement came more than 36 hours after the election results were announced and I listened to several opposition speakers on radio on election night, including vice president of the NDP, St Clair Leacock, and there was no comment about alleged fraud. The NDP leader in his statement said that he would raise his concerns with the Organisation of American States (OAS). Does this make sense when the ten-member OAS team reported that the elections complied with international standards?

The OAS team was headed by distinguished Ambassador Frank Almaguer, who in a statement said, "in every case observed, the polls opened on time and had the requisite materials and polling officials. In the morning, there were long lines of voters who patiently waited to exercise their franchise. The Presiding Officers, poll clerks, party agents and police worked harmoniously throughout the long day, helping citizens to find their polling stations and ensuring an organized and peaceful environment."

The OAS mission concluded by saying that the election was conducted with minimal incidents and compliance with international standards for inclusiveness and transparency, and later the OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, issued a statement saying, "The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines have once again demonstrated their commitment to democracy in a peaceful manner."

What is very disturbing is that Eustace said he would raise the issue of fraud with the OAS after Almaguer's statement and even after the secretary general made his favourable comments about the conduct of the elections. Moreover, there was no adverse comment coming from the CARICOM observers.

The allegation of fraud is an excuse for his poor leadership, and he is now saying that his party is considering filing election petitions, and lawyers are considering private criminal complaints against citizens suspected of violating the nation’s electoral laws, but it seems as if those were merely threats, and now Eustace is singing a different tune. He is now saying that his party will use its position in the new Parliament to force Ralph Gonsalves government to call fresh elections within a one year period.

The question is, is Eustace capable of forcing the ULP out of office? He said so because, five months after James Mitchell handed over the leadership and the government to him, he allowed Comrade Ralph to oust him from office. He now says he will give Gonsalves the fire since they (UDP) speak of "keep the fire burning". I do not see this because the leadership of the NDP is extremely weak. In fact, I feel that Eustace should resign because he lost all three elections as opposition leader... in baseball after three strikes you are out.

I must say that I am surprised at Sir James Mitchell, a three-term prime minister (almost four) for making an irrational statement accusing CARICOM secretary general Sir Edwin Carrington of "getting involved in the politics of St Vincent and the Grenadines". Carrington went to St Vincent and St Lucia to have a firsthand look at the massive destruction caused by the storm. Taking a photograph with Gonsalves and the secretary general praising the Gonsalves administration for the quick response to Hurricane Tomas can never be political involvement.

Gonsalves, as the smart, tactful, and astute politician as he is, took the opportunity to pose with Carrington to gain political mileage and Carrington should not be blamed.

I note with interest two new portfolios in the Cabinet -- National Reconciliation and Wellness. I sincerely hope that these new ministries will try to heal the wounds and try to bridge the gap between the two parties. There must be unity for the country to move forward.

I also hope that Comrade Ralph will stick to his promise and listen very attentively... and, as he said, will interpret very keenly.

He should remember that he barely scraped in and should work assiduously to win the support of some of the 48.39 percent of the electorate that did not vote for him. He should remember at all times he is the prime minister of the entire St Vincent and the Grenadines, with four portfolios (maybe five, because there is no minister of justice) and not merely leader of the ULP and its supporters.