Sunday, January 21, 2018

Grenada/Barbados poll verdicts


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BY the time you read this column, the official results of yesterday's general election in Grenada should have been publicly declared.

Grenadian voters had trekked to polling stations aware that, according to forecasts by credible pollsters, the incumbent National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas was facing defeat by former prime minister Keith Mitchell's New National Party (NNP).

Indeed, if the predictions of the more notable pollsters prove correct — as expected — then a change in government should also take place in Barbados by Friday following tomorrow's general election with a return to power by former prime minister Owen Arthur's Labour Party (BLP)

This phenomenon in parliamentary elections, with the defeat of two first-term governments within two days of each other would be quite surprising and painful for the losing parties.

At the same time the results could be a wake-up call for other first-term administrations within the Caribbean Community — among them Jamaica's People's National Party (PNP) of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's People's Partnership.

In contrast to its landslide 11-4 victory at the July 2008 general election when it swept Mitchell's three-term NNP from power, Prime Minister Thomas' NDC entered this campaign for a second term very much on the defensive, largely as a consequence of internal divisions within both the party and cabinet.

Some of the criticisms, not just from his political rivals, about leadership style and economic management, have been quite sharp. But, win or lose, Thomas has not been tainted by financial corruption.

Corruption allegations, on the other hand, haunted Mitchell's NNP at the 2008 election, and were also to re-surface during this year's campaign.

Of course, when the arithmetic on the official results are made known only then a safe and reasonable assessment could be offered on the way forward for both the NDC and its leader and that of a new administration led by the NNP's Mitchell.

Across in Barbados, where there has recently been fluctuating forecasts on leadership ratings as well as percentages in swing votes for both the incumbent DLP of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the BLP of former three-term prime minister Owen Arthur, the latest Nation/CADRES poll, as published on Monday, has given a winning seven-point swing to the challenging BLP.

The projections are between 17 to 20 winning seats for the BLP and 10 to 13 for the DLP in the 30-member parliament that contrasted with an earlier result that had cautiously pointed to a "victory edge" for the opposition and even had Prime Minister Stuart's popularity rating at three percent higher than that of Opposition Leader Arthur.

That revelation at the weekend quickly pushed the BLP leader into putting on a bright face, telling party supporters that the Nation/CADRES poll was a "worst-case scenario" which still pointed to a narrow victory for his party to become the next government by Friday.

At the January 2008 general election (the now late) David Thompson had led the DLP to a crushing 20-10 victory against the three-term BLP administration amid wide expectations of a second term.

A combination of factors, among them the passing of Thompson, who lost his battle with cancer, followed by internal leadership squabbles that had to be overcome both at party and cabinet levels, led to that defeat.

Then, of course, there was the problem of having to cope with a stubborn global financial and economic recession, with an economy revealing—like Grenada and five others in Caricom—"unsustainable debt levels", according to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

While pollsters' projections are quite helpful in assessing the fortunes of political combatants for government at free and fair elections, it is the declared official results that matter. Grenada's results were due before midnight last night and we have to wait until tomorrow night for the judgement of the Barbadian electorate.

Commendable features of the elections campaigning in both Grenada and Barbados were the absence of violence and generally responsible crowd behaviour.

The end of an established pattern in Barbados—highly reputed for conducting free and fair elections—for an incumbent party to be denied a second chance is a crucial factor that must await official confirmation on Friday.