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Sunday, June 19, 2016




From the perspective of the Saint Lucia Labour Party the just concluded General Elections was a bombshell. The pollsters didn’t see it coming. The supporters didn’t recognize it as it approached. Like in 2006, it came and it hit us hard.

In 2006 we had to demit office after two terms.  In 2016 we were kicked out after only one term - a term that could have taken us well into 2017. In 2006 we had a background of nine years to feed off. That was not the case in 2016, but coming into office in 2011, when we reversed the results of 2006, the UWP gave us a lot to feed off.  Few would deny that the administration of 2006-2011, with allegations of corruption, greed and associated malpractices, did not deserve to lose. 

Perhaps having won, we did not accept that in those circumstances, we had under performed. UWP candidates, whose names were prominent where allegations were rife, either won, or lost by relatively small margins.  By contrast, the administration of 2006 – 2011 did not have to address a single incident of corruption or associated malpractices.   The dominant issue seemed to be VAT – a tax that is common the world over, and a tax that the UWP themselves was committed to implementing.   

So where did we go wrong? I believe that not having appreciated that we under performed in 2006, we allowed complacency to creep in, perhaps unnoticed. After all, we had a majority that allowed us to ride roughshod over the opposition if we chose to. So we continued working, admirably in the eyes of many, but with obvious distractions as expected in the world of politics.

While VAT was the dominant issue it is difficult to accept that VAT alone could have done such damage. True we were told that the UWP would immediately reduce and ultimately abolish it. We were never told by how much it would be reduced initially, or when we could expect eventual abolition.  But with an electorate littered with illiteracy and steeped in tribalistic loyalty, it made its mark.  Perhaps the education that preceded its implementation or that was continued after its implementation was inadequate.  We should always remember that every individual has one vote, and every effort should be made to engage everyone, particularly in a case like VAT where everyone will be affected at some point. To tell the rest of the world that VAT killed us is in my view laughable. But it contributed; and we can only blame ourselves, that the pro -VAT argument did not reverberate convincingly on the eardrums of all.

Once we begin to understand our politics we recognize that each party has a solid base. Once the base is properly massaged, we expect it to remain solid or increase. Recent results invite us to revisit that view.  It may well be that our base was not being properly massaged. Massaging in my view does not necessarily mean granting favours or ensuring particular individuals being placed in advantageous positions.  It means visiting the base at acceptable intervals, demonstrating our appreciation for their efforts, informing them of opportunities for progressing, giving them the arguments that allow them to defend the party and its policies at appropriate times, and ensuring that they are aware of developments as they occur.

Of course factors beyond our control can lead to erosion. I believe however if the base is properly massaged whatever the influences, erosion will be minimal.  The Labour Party must now consider whether too much erosion has occurred and why.  While UWP candidates were winning by margins exceeding one thousand votes our best result came with a margin of six hundred and twenty votes, in a seat that we last won with a majority of over a thousand votes.  Seats we expected to win by over a thousand votes were either lost or barely won.

We talk about “swing”.  I can understand swings that eat into our base but leave us visible.  But this one was a hurricane that left us homeless.  It is not an easy task finding the pieces and rebuilding. I trust we can see the lessons here that must be learnt.

Roaming through the constituencies long before election was called. I detected a common cry:  new entrants or what someone calls “soft converts” were being well massaged at the expense of proven stalwarts.  I clearly remember one stalwart lamenting the fact that a soft convert had got a decent contract and promptly subcontracted it to his “old friends” Stalwarts are then expected to sit idly by and pretend to be unaffected.  That cannot contribute to maintaining a base. It doesn’t mean that there must be blatant discrimination. It simply means that we cannot afford to ignore our stalwarts.

Many have suggested that people just wanted Kenny out. If that be the case one ought to be able to identify that act or series of acts that so offended the nation that the nation reacted so vociferously. I daresay, that where these exist, the writing on the wall would be so legible, the partially sighted would have no difficulty reading it.  But we didn’t see it coming!

Every leader is bound to make unpopular decisions at some point.  Many will accept the necessity recognizing that it may well be in the best interest of the country.  Many will use it to advance their personal interest. The conscientious will say it is better to do what is right rather than what is expedient.  But the nature of our society is such that where what is right is what is done, the consequences may not flatter us.

So what was so offensive about Kenny’s leadership?  I have often wondered why politicians wish to remain in office beyond a certain period particularly in societies like ours where it seems to be fair game to insult and even assault the politician.  From the politician’s perspective it is that thankless task that necessitates much sacrifice and can lead to near or total bankruptcy. But to many persons the politician is responsible for every ill that emerges while he is in office.  To most persons the Prime Minister is the chief culprit.  Whatever the problem, whatever the source, rightly or wrongly, he is the cause.  How long should one be allowed to carry that burden?

People do people get tired of seeing the same faces in office or hearing or repeating the same names. It gets to a point where the most insignificant incident is interpreted as a disaster.  I clearly remember just before retiring from politics, someone said to me he would not be voting for me again because I had made enough money and should give someone else a chance.

 I couldn’t believe the reasoning.  I knew politics had done nothing to enhance my finances.  In fact, the opposite was true.   But this constituent actually believed his vote had somehow enriched me. That kind of thinking together with the stress and disadvantages that come with politics clearly suggest that we should always keep an eye on the clock.

As I see it Kenny Anthony has had a long and distinguished career as Political Leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party and Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.  He has earned the respect of leaders regionally and internationally.  Saint Lucia can be proud that he was with us when we needed him.  I would have preferred if he had bowed out in glory but I think he left it late.  But that does not devalue his worth.  Knowing when to go has always been difficult to determine.  Mohammed Ali “The Greatest” got it wrong when he returned to the ring in 1980.  He remains the greatest.  Bless his soul.  Margaret Thatcher “The Iron Lady” fell after she too got it wrong.  Many more can be named.

The wave of protest reflected in the ballot boxes up and down the country was not only because of VAT or unemployment.   VAT is likely to be here for the next five years.  There will not be a dramatic fall in unemployment in a hurry, because of anything the new government does.  People wanted change, and they voted for change. In so doing they voted “against” rather than “for”.

That to me, best explains why in Vieux Fort North a relative unknown shows up two weeks before election day and literally frightens the incumbent in what was considered a very safe Labour seat. The same can be said in Dennery North.  In Choiseul/Saltibus, I am convinced that ninety per cent of the people who voted UWP did not know their candidate.  They simply voted against the incumbent.

Surprisingly, where incumbents seemed to had worked their seats impressively, the results were effectively a slap in the face.  Impressive projects completed or in progress, did not impress.  The individual need for more spending power was of greater concern.  That vote against the Labour Party demands scientific analysis. It must be understood and addressed.

Money has been cited as one of the reasons we lost.  It is quite obvious that a lot of money was spent. But I don’t know of any General Elections where a lot of money wasn’t spent. Campaign Financing is an issue in every democracy.  Where it is regulated it is difficult to police. During a campaign, all parties with the intention of persuading people to vote for their party, spend huge sums.  Giving the head of a household a fair sum in the hope that every voter in that household would support the party is not unheard of. Sad but true.

What is particularly offensive is that on Election Day, money is paid to voters in an attempt to have them change their presumed allegiance.  While risky, it is known to bear fruit. I do not believe however that these Election Day payments wherever they occurred would have made any difference. Of the eleven seats that were captured, six seats were won with majorities exceeding one thousand votes.  Four had majorities exceeding three hundred and the other had a majority of one hundred and forty nine.  I find it difficult to accept that any Election Day payments could have significantly influenced these figures.

Another worry is the fact that some voters who find it difficult to betray their allegiance suddenly disappeared on polling day.  Reports suggest that some bus drivers as well as a number of individuals, known to be committed to the Labour party, became invisible on voting day.  There is reason to believe that in most if not all cases they were paid to become invisible.  Indeed worrying, but it begs the question: how solid is the base? While that may have contaminated the figures, I don’t believe it influenced the eventual outcome.

Every political party must undertake periodic review and at some point radical change. Kenny Anthony has led the St Lucia Labour Party from 1996. His era is now over. This defeat presents an opportunity not just for post mortems and papering over cracks, but for a complete overhaul and radical change. That process must begin now. We now have an opposition that can constructively challenge the Government.  We must now work towards a Government that the opposition cannot challenge.

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