Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gonsalves' narrow victory

Originally printed at

By Rickey Singh
December 14, 2010
RALPH GONSALVES is scheduled to take the oath of office today (Wed) as St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister for the third five-year term he won at Monday's general election with a very challenging one-seat majority for the I5-member House of Assembly.

Putting a bright, reassuring face to such a narrowly avoided defeat by Arnhim Eustace's New Democratic Pary (NDP), Gonsalves, 64-year-old lawyer-politician, said in a telephone interview yesterday (Tues): "I am not daunted by the narrow victory. Clearly I would have preferred to win at least two more of the seats that we lost by narrow margins. But our victory came with the endorsement of more than half the voting electorate (almost 52 percent)...

"This is not a time for triumphalism (in a third term victory) but to reach out to those of our fellow citizens who voted for the opposition (NDP) which has now lost three general elections in a row under its current leadership...."

Indeed the challenge to govern that Windward Island country, whose largely tourism and agriculture-based economy is, like the rest of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), been experiencing a comparative downward trend, could prove quite daunting for the manoeuvrability capacity of the charismatic Gonsalves.

Equally, though his problem is of a different nature, the NDP's 65-year-old leader, Eustace, an economist, may find that he does not have much time to spend on thinking how close he came to becoming the new Prime Minister from Monday's poll results.

The harsh arithmetic of the official preliminary results, as made available to this columnist yesterday by Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay, reveal how very close victory came for Gonsalves' ULP and defeat for Eustace's NDP.

Of an eligible electorate of I01,000, some 32,356 or 5I.43 per cent voted for the incumbent ULP, while 30,I74 or 47.96 per cent of the valid ballots were cast for the NDP.

The final official results are expected today (Wed) but arrangements are already in place for Gonsalves' swearing-in ceremony, while the NDP's Eustace must now face the unpleasant political reality that he has led the party into three successive electoral defeats in a row.

Therefore, while Gonsalves manoeuvres to steer his third-term administration out of rough political waters with a likely ten-member cabinet (he had I5 in the last government), Eustace may have to contend with the reality that rumblings about 'time for leadership change' can become more distinct within the NDP where current speculations include at least a vice-president among potential candidates.

At the 2005 general election, the ULP had won its dozen seats with a 55.26 per cent of the popular votes to the NDP's 44.68 per cent for its three seats.

But at last year's national referendum for a new republican-style constitution, the governing party suffered a surprising defeat when it failed to secure a required 66.07 per cent endorsement with the NDP's "no" votes totalling 55.06 per cent to the ULP's 43 per cent.

Objectively, therefore, it could be said that the opposition NDP failed to maintain the momentum of its victory from the referendum, while the governing ULP proved unsuccessful in its tense battle to recover sufficiently from that defeat to secure a comfortable working majority.

Both contenders for state power are known to have received election campaign funding from overseas sources with the NDP introducing as a scare tactic, "Venezuelan (read President Chavez)influence in our governance", and the incumbent ULP warning of "external threats to our sovereignty".

Meanwhile the guessing game has already begun about what happens should one of the eight MPs of the governing ULP be enticed to cross the floor in parliament to team up with the NDP.

That could prove counter-productive for the particular MP—either a newly elected one or one from the previous ULP administration. For it is to be expected that the crafty Gonsalves would quickly move for a dissolution of parliament to pave the way for a fresh general election.

It needs to also be borne in mind that crossing-the-floor parliamentary politics is a game that could be played by the ULP also. For a start, as a government it would have access to resources to make it worthwhile in attracting an opposition MP more than the NDP may be able to offer a parliamentarian to defect.

For the present, there is the very difficult task facing Prime Minister Gonsalves of ensuring political stability with democratic governance and economic progress. Minus, of course, the kind of theatrics that, surprisingly, keep surfacing in the governance of Trinidad and Tobago with a mix of political double-speak, threats and tantalising courtship.