By Jomo Sanga Thomas
Each election cycle brings out the best and worst in each of us. It is the time when the major parties and their supporters demonstrate love, care and concern towards the electorate, especially the poor. It is that period as well when the poor and needy capture the attention of those in power and those aspiring for power. If they are to get anything from politicians, the time is now.
Sadly, the election season also brings out the worst in most of us. We can expect to hear whose mother slept with the devil as well as things we did which we know we have never done. Most often, the poor are the pawns and puppets. They, especially our women, are used to carrying the parties on their backs and in their bellies. During election time, our women are used, abused and exploited and then neglected and discarded. They benefit the least.
All too often, divisions are taken to new heights, and people disregard their neighbours and family members all in the name of partisan politics. To paraphrase Peter Tosh, as we beat up and shoot down our black brothers and sisters, we tend to forget that most of us are from one race and came from the same place: Africa.
Sadly, we neglect to hold strongly to the things that bind.
One cannot be sure who is guiding the campaigns of the respective parties. One thing is certain, much of their propaganda is misdirected and misplaced. The NDP continues to direct its aim of fire at Ralph Gonsalves, while the ULP takes Vincentians back to the 17-year-old record of the NDP years of government.
People know Ralph Gonsalves, and there is little else for the opposition to say about him. Vincentians either like him or hate him. Therefore, the scorched earth concentration on him will not bring the rewards the opposition is hoping for. As we saw in the previous elections here, or in the 2016 elections in the United States, the concentration on the leader rarely if ever gains the desired result.
NDP, like the democrats in the US, may be making the same error by their over-concentration on Gonsalves and Trump. People are won to your side through their heads, heart and or stomach. You give them bread, or you feed their soul. You make them happy or you give them hope.
The ULP must remember that for about 25% of the population, those between 5 and 25, all they know is ULP governance. The party is directing its efforts at the youth, but will the youth be impressed with its record since the turn of the century?
Young people were told to embrace education and thousands have done so. They now sit for and pass seven to 10 CXC subjects. Thousands of them remain unemployed. The PRYME initiative is useful and benefits young people, but will it have the reach? Does the party believe that most young people think that they have an opportunity to access these funds?
Further, PRYME is not new. It is the recycled policy from the ULP’s first term when the government offered up to EC$15,000 to young entrepreneurs, mainly women. It will make an interesting study to see how many of those recipients grew that loan into a thriving business.
It is unlikely that the 2020 elections will be decided on what the NDP did between 1984 and 2001. PM Gonsalves is fond of telling supporters, “If you think government hard, try opposition.” It is a kind of reasoning that the party should abandon. Only the most diehard supporters will be swayed by it.
Those who are unemployed, those who supported the party for one reason or the other, should and will frown on that kind of reasoning. A young unemployed person who left school at 18 and is now 27 years old will not buy that argument. What do they really have to lose?
The best argument the ULP has going for it is that when all is said and done, people seem reluctant to dip their finger in the yellow ink. But the opposition has gained a lot of ground since 2001. It has moved from 23,000 to 32,000 votes since 2001, while the ULP moved from 30,000 to just over 30,000 votes. The opposition moved from three constituencies to severn. The NDP continues to contend for power. Can it climb to the top of the hill this time around?
The NDP argument that Labour is not working, if properly packaged and targeted, could resonate and tip the scale away from the ULP. Therefore, it may be tempting for the ULP to go after the youth vote at the expense of other sections of the voting public. However, this tactic could backfire since the party’s biggest failing relates to youth employment. With more than 40% of young people — the largest section of the population — unemployed, the party will need much more than rhetoric to win the youth vote. Add to this that youths are the most difficult section of the population to get to the voting booth.
The neglect in constituencies especially North Leeward, South Leeward and North Windward may also negatively impact on the party’s chances to win more seats to parliament. It is, however, a tribute to the party’s effort and achievements, or more so to the failings of the opposition that even in a 5th term, the ULP remains formidable and could even increase the number of constituencies it wins.
These elections will be decided on bread and butter issues. Our attainment of a seat on the UN Security Council, the construction of the international airport at Argyle, the Rabacca Bridge as well as the schools that the ULP built over the last 20 years, will have little or no effect on how the electorate, particularly independent-minded people’s vote.
These elections will be decided on, “What have you done for me lately?” “What’s in voters’ pocket and stomach?” Which party offers more comfort and hope for the future?”
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.