By M.B. Archibald MBA(fs), FICB, AICB
Speculation is rife, inside and outside the party, as to the future of the National Democratic Congress. Many are wondering also about the political futures of its leader Honorable Tillman Thomas and the Deputy Leader Honorable Nazim Burke. The shock, sorrow and depression felt by some members of the NDC seemed almost too much for some of them to bear and many have expressed fears about the future survival and direction of the party. On the other hand, in the explosion of an almost orgasmic feeling of glee at the 15-0 victory, some NNP supporters were even predicting the end of the NDC as a party.
|Michael Archibald, MBA (FS), FICB, AICB|
While there must indeed be intense concern within the NDC about the future direction of the party, I believe that there is certainly a future for that party. Further, Grenada is demonstratively a two-party country and it is important for the country that the second party be vibrant and strong.
I argue this from my premise that it is better for the country to have two strong parties rather than being a one party state. I am fully aware that at this time that position is a very unpopular one and I can hear the shouts of “no they had their chance!” coming loudly at me from many parts. The oft expressed sentiment heard now is for a one party state for at least the next few years.
It is my view that the policies, decisions and actions of any government in power must come under the constant scrutiny of the press, current affairs commentators, the public and another vibrant party. I have absolutely no dispute with the position that “the people have spoken” but that does not necessarily contradict my view as expressed above. I believe therefore that over time and regardless of which party is in power that my position about the need for two strong parties would prove to be the correct one. In my judgment therefore, any prediction of the collapse or demise of the NDC is not only premature but completely wrong. The NDC or some hybrid or offshoot, under whatever name, will survive.
It must be remembered that despite the scope of the defeat as reflected by the 15-0 shellacking in this last election, approximately 22,000 people voted for the NDC. That is a significant number of voters and represents a solid base from which any party can seek to rebuild. The question really is what steps should now be taken and by whom, as the members seek to reorganize, to forge a new identity for the party and to determine a new strategy for the future. It is my contention however, that the survival of the party as a vibrant entity under the same or whatever name and as whatever hybrid, has a much stronger likelihood of success if the following steps are taken.
First, I think that given the scope of the defeat as represented by the 15-0 result and his record as a leader, Mr Tillman Thomas must do the wise and honorable thing by following the example of Mr Owen Arthur in Barbados and immediately resign as leader of the NDC. I have listened intently to various arguments about the timing of his resignation; should it be now, at a convention some time later on, in six months or even next year. The important thing as I see it is for him to make way gracefully, create the necessary space and make it easier for the new person to establish him/herself and begin the necessary rebuilding task and I suggest the earlier the better.
It might also be best also for the ex-minister of finance and deputy leader Nazim Burk and the ex-minister of information Glen Noel to resign their senior positions in the party. This recommendation is made in view of what appears to be significant feelings against them among the general public for what many perceive to be their close identification with some of the reasons for the defeat in the recent elections; including their perceived roles in the controversial ouster of the so called “rebels”. I suggest further that the powerful “kitchen cabinet” should be dismantled and there are at least a few others whose roles should be closely reviewed by the party with a view to making changes.
It is time for a new leader with political smarts or savvy to step forward and be elected. I would suggest that this new leader not come from the well known group immediately around the present leader or from the ‘kitchen cabinet’ but an entirely new face, maybe even someone presently undeclared from the body of the party. I suggest that this individual be someone who can demonstrate empathy for and understanding of the problems and aspirations of the general public and identify with the average person.
At the same time they must be able to rise to the standards necessary to properly represent us in the international arena in a manner that would make us proud. That individual must have a clear idea of where he/she wants to take the country and a broad idea of the road to be taken to get there. As I have said elsewhere, the specific ideas and plans can be drawn up later with the assistance of others but he/she must have a clear vision of the destination. In addition, that new leader must be able to clearly articulate that vision and the way forward in a manner that excites and encourages people to get on board.
At the same time the party should take the time to slowly, clearly and objectively assess the reasons for the defeat. This should not be rushed and the analysis should be carefully done leaving emotions aside and preferably with the assistance of trained change agents. A broad cross section of the party should be involved in the deliberations and not some chosen few.
There are many good, well intentioned and intelligent people within the party. Many new faces that might have a future in politics have appeared to contest the recent elections. Their defeat at the polls should not deter them but serve as a baptism of fire to temper their resolve for the tough job ahead. Names like Vincent, Robinson, ‘Persuader’ Thomas, Samuel and Andal come to mind, as do names like Simmons to suggest a few — and there are many others. These people must now step to the front as part of a new leadership group to make the hard decisions necessary, but only after careful thought and consideration.
The identity and image of the party need to be very closely examined. The NDC is seen by too many to be a party of intellectuals, aloof, stand-offish and representing mainly a particular segment of the population. They appear to too many as arrogant, always looking down their intellectual noses at those they deem less smart, not in touch with the Grenadian public and the realities that the average citizen faces on a daily basis. The reorganized party must seek to identify much more closely with the average person and their hopes and dreams, and seek to understand their many concerns and issues.
The negativism and blame game that the NDC has come to be known for must stop. It is of course part of normal politics to point out and discuss the errors, faults and missteps of your opponents, including the problems created by their decisions. However, I would suggest that is best done objectively and in a manner that serves to put one’s party in a better light by comparison and not be overdone and cloaked in character assassination.
In addition the NDC exhibited a particular weakness in understanding and attracting our younger voters and this weakness must be addressed. This amazing lack of sensitivity , understanding and identifying with our younger voters was exhibited in so many ways but exemplified by sneering remarks about “bouncing castles” and the young being “bamboozled by the NNP”, must be addressed. Many smart and concerned young people were deeply offended by these remarks.
The reorganized party must instead seek to represent optimism, forward thinking and hope for the future in the eyes of our youth and the general public. Let me be clear that I am not here referring to blind, rosy optimism but optimism and forward thinking grounded in a clear understanding of our present situation and clearly understood and achievable plans for improving the lives and fortunes of the Grenadian people.
Some time and energy must be spent in reorganizing and strengthening the various organs of the party. They make the party function properly and are the main connection between the leadership and the rank and file of the party. They must be given the encouragement, training and guidance necessary to perform their jobs properly. Those party organs, working closely with the political leadership, must spend the next few years consolidating and energizing the base in the first instance; while at the same time working hard to attract the many independents /fence sitters/unaffiliated voters and the thousands of people who did not register or vote for one reason or another.
The elected leadership of the party must be indisputably in charge, not some unelected private “kitchen cabinet” with seemingly unlimited power, access to and influence over the leader. During this process, consideration could be given to possible mergers with or absorption of other parties or groups.
The recent public comments from the NDC suggest that at least the soul searching and introspection has started, as it should. Unfortunately, however, some of those same public comments still suggest a lack of objectivity and acceptance of certain realities and a continuing search for “someone/something” to blame.
In a recent interview, Mr Burke was straight forward and quietly convincing in his answers regarding the accusations surrounding his finances and houses. I for one cannot understand why he did not take that approach in the weeks before the election instead of his arrogant, disastrous, “in your face” responses about it being his own business — it would have gone down much better and be much better accepted.
Mr Thomas’s own remarks about this not being the time for resignation were most unfortunate and will only serve to delay the selection of a new leader and the effective reorganization of the party. Potential leaders will now hesitate to step forward out of respect to him as an “elder statesman” and from a reluctance to be seen as power hungry, particularly given the treatment of others by the party in the recent past.
It will also be more difficult for a new leadership group to step forward and be effective if the present leadership shows a desire to remain. That would not be helpful in the necessary restructuring, reorganization and revival of the party.
I believe in having a strong party in opposition and prepared to take over the reins of government if necessary. It will keep the government “on its toes” and help them to perform better. Despite the flush of victory and the sentiments of many of his supporters I actually believe that, in his quieter moments of reflection, the Right Honorable Dr Keith Mitchell also understands that need. I come to that conclusion from listening to his statements before and after his sweeping victory — he has been saying all the right things. He will of course be judged, in the fullness of time, not by his words but by his actions.
So NDC or hybrid or merged entity of whatever name — elect a new leader and leadership, reorganize, revamp, re-identify and, as the saying from our younger generation goes — “come again”. Like two strong teams locked in combat, this country needs two strong, vibrant parties both ready to take the reins of government.