The February 19th election is over and the Grenadian electorate has given the NNP led by Dr Keith Mitchell a resounding victory at the polls. The NNP won all fifteen seats and celebrated this victory in grand style by holding a massive swearing in ceremony at the Grenada National Stadium which was attended by a few leaders from around the OECS, including Roosevelt Skerrit, prime minister of Dominica. The victory is indeed historic given the fact that this is the first time a political party has won all the seats in the English-speaking Caribbean and the Commonwealth twice.
While this victory may have come as a shock to many, the NDC had an uphill battle to win, given the internal wrangling and economic situation in the country. The electorate therefore to decided to return the NNP to the helm of political power. Whether this choice was a good one, only time will tell.
Grenada is no stranger to making political history. In 1979, Grenada become the first country in the OECS to have a revolution when the duly elected party, the GULP, and its leader Sir Eric Gairy was overthrown by the New Jewel Movement, who subsequently formed the People’s Revolutionary Government, PRG. The most noticeable similarities during that era and now is the absence of an opposition and some of the same players who were around in the events of 1979 are the same players involved in the political process today. There was political paralysis then and there may be political paralysis again if our democratic rights, freedoms and institutions are not vigorously protected and defended. The main difference however is that in 1979 it was a socialist revolution with one party rule under Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Bishop was later assassinated by his own colleagues in October of 1983. Today however our country is democratic under the Westminster political system. Two distinct political scenario and period however the absence of an official parliamentary opposition and some of the same political players is the common factor in the equation.
Our parliamentary system is modeled after the British system; however throughout its history Britain has always had a parliamentary opposition. The thought also of not having an opposition in the United States is virtually impossible even if one party may control all three branches of government that is the Executive, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Given the system though one party may only able to control these three branches for only two years and even then there is an official opposition in the minority leaders of the senate and house. The great democracies of our time are great because they have a political system in which the government and opposition are free to debate ideas for the good of their country.
Given our political experiences and history are we as a people made to believe that our country will be better governed in the absence of an official opposition? The outcry from some quarters against the nomination of Hon Nazim Burke as a senator is unwise and selfish.
The Governor General in his own deliberate judgement given the powers vested in him under the constitution did what he thinks is in the best interest of the country. Criticizing the nomination is an attempt to question the wisdom and judgement of the head of state. The persons who are against this nomination don’t have the interest of the country at heart but are rather egoistic actors with an agenda and personal grudges against the former finance minister. Hon Nazim Burke is a politician who will continue to contribute to the development of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique for many years.
Grenada has suffered too much over the years as a result of the struggle for power among various personalities. It is time for some of these elements to give the country some breathing space so that our people especially the young intelligent minds can reach their true potential.
In 1999 the NNP won all fifteen years in parliament, however the administration didn’t used this mandate effectively to unite the people, stimulate economic growth and improve their standard of living. As a result of having total power the administration operated like a dictatorship and as such almost lost the elections in 2003. This time around the political dynamics are different. The administration seems to have the support of the major trade union movement TUC and TAWU, the mainstream media and other NGOs. The confrontational and combative politics of 1995- 2008 seems to have been replaced by one of collusion and co-operation. How long this honeymoon period last will depend on how genuine and productive the marriage is. Every sector will be seeking its own personal self interest and that of their respective organisation. It will be interesting to see how these various interests merge with the national interest.
The prime minister has been calling for national unity, however there is no other politician from the outside of the NNP camp in the nation’s cabinet and the three senators in the Upper House were nominated by the Governor General. The prime minister didn’t see it fit to include any of the former NDC rebels including Peter David in the senate even after they campaigned for the NNP in the elections. The prime minister chose to consolidate power for his party than to gamble with the politics of inclusion that he talked about prior to the elections. It appears that he doesn’t really trust this group and would prefer to give them ambassadorial postings overseas where their political ambitions will be neutralized by virtue of their geographic location outside of Grenada. While some of the former NDC ministers may take up the offer of the ambassadorships, I doubt that the former minister of foreign affairs and tourism Peter David would accept such a posting. If he accepts this job then he won’t be able to put up himself as a candidate for the 2018 general elections as he indicated he wanted to after sitting out 2013 except he is able to stick a deal with the prime minister and the NNP.
The political situation in Grenada will be very exciting in the years ahead as the various camps jockey to position themselves for higher office. If Dr Mitchell sticks to his word and decides to not run in another election then the job for political leader of the NNP will be up for grabs. Will Peter David strike a deal with Dr Mitchell to lead the NNP into the next general elections especially since Hamlet Mark a Peter David protégé was pivotal in the NNP of 2013? Hamlet Mark is now a senior adviser to the prime minister. For Hamlet Mark to be given such a senior position there must have been some sort of deal between the trio. Politics may sometimes be predictable given the ideological alignments of certain politicians and the cronies however in Grenada anything is possible since main motivation isn’t the interest of the country but rather individual self interest.
While the NNP and the prime minister make a gallant effort to get the right mix and sync among the various MPs and interest groups the NDC have some critical decisions to make as to the way forward for the party. The political and deputy political leader both lost their seats in the last elections. While mainstream NDC supporters continue to rally behind the party’s leadership, some members of the rebel group and a senior adviser to the prime minister has called for the resignation of the both men and are against the nomination of Hon Nazim Burke to the senate. It would be very unwise for the leadership of the NDC to abandon the party and its supporters at this time. PM Thomas led the NDC from zero seats in 1999 to victory in 2008 having lost the 2003 elections by a mere six votes. What some people tend to forget is their history and that is why we are where we are at this point in time. Tillman Thomas is a politician who definitely has the interest of his country at heart. There are many other politicians and leaders who are only concerned about what the politics of the day have for them.
Whatever changes the NDC have to make in its organizational structure such changes must come with the overwhelming support of the grassroots supporters and the party’s base and not at the whims and fancies of spectators. Such changes should be made based on the current and future political dynamics in the country. The NDC needs to empower the young people especially those who share the party’s core values. The new and younger candidates in the persons of Patrick Simmonds, Joseph Andall, Terry Hillaire, Adrian Persuader, Allie Dowden and Randell Robinson must be given the responsibility to work with the young people to ensure that the party has a significant number of young intelligent leaders going into the next general elections. As former minister of youth empowerment Hon Simmonds is well placed to lead the charge. I believe that he should have been much more prominent within the party given the percentage of our youthful population which was the deciding factor in the outcome of the last elections. This grouping will continue to be significant in future elections and if the NDC is to remain competitive the party would have to attract these young voters. The women arm of the NDC is extremely vibrant and so many more young women should come to the forefront of national politics on behalf of the party. Dr Pemba Braveboy and Ingrid Jackson are two intelligent young women who I believe can make a major difference by working with the young people on all levels. These two young women especially Ingrid Jackson would be very effectively in taking the fight to the current minister of youth who is not a naturally gifted politician. She has been able to make inroads because of the strong support systems within the NNP.
The challenges may be great given the cultural trend in the country. The vast majority of young voters are into the upbeat and party style political fashion for which the NNP is well known. The ‘gangnam style’ dance moves and dress code of the political leader of the NNP was all aimed at attracting young voters. The tight skin fitting jeans and t-shirts made him look more in touch with the young voters and so the majority of them voted for the NNP. NDC would have to work to reduce this generational gap which is affecting the party. Whether we believe this type of campaigning is effective or not shouldn’t be a point of contention. President Obama campaign team uses this method to great effect. His use of the social media such like face book and twitter and smart phone device makes him look a modern fashionable person towards whom the young voters gravitated
One of the attributes of a politician is to be aware of the social, cultural and economic trends taking place within the country. However to be fully aware of these trends one shouldn’t be enclosed by the walls of his or her office but should be engaged fully with the people. That is what the NNP was able to do much more effectively than the NDC and so was able to convince the people that they have the cure for all our ills and as such will deliver. Given the unsuspecting nature of our people the electorate didn’t demand any serious political debate on the major issues affecting the country even if the Hon Nazim Burke tried to explain to the people that the country is broke and as such the former government was hard pressed to provide the necessary jobs and other development projects.
It is no secret as to the major factors that were responsible for the NDC loss in the elections. The primary reason was the infighting within the party that was allowed to go out of control resulting in the expulsion of ten senior and influential longstanding members of the party. This weakness was severely exploited by the opposition to their advantage with some of the former members of the NDC supporting the NNP in the last elections. As the NDC rebuilds and re-organises, structures must be put in place to ensure that if and when such political infighting occurs in the future it is dealt with decisively. There will always be internal issues with all political parties. Such is the nature of people and politics. What is important is how these issues are handled. The internal issues within the party were allowed to drag on for way to long giving the new candidates no opportunity to establish themselves in their respective constituencies. Politics is all about timing and opportunities. Today your approval ratings may be over seventy percent and tomorrow it drops to twenty percent.
As the political, social and economic scenario unfolds in these our Spice Isles it would be very also interesting to see what happens to the National United Front, MUF led by Glynis Roberts former minister in the last NDC administration. The party had only three candidates and mustered a total of one hundred and thirty-eight votes less than one percent of the electorate in the elections. It is still a matter of speculation as to whether the former members of the NDC will join that political grouping with Glynis Roberts as the political leader. My own analysis of this situation is that they won’t and so it is left to be seen whether NUF will be able to attract sufficient members to have fifteen viable candidates for the next general elections or the party will go into oblivion like the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement of Dr Terrance Marryshow. In Caribbean politics it is very difficult for a third party to make any significant inroads into mainstream politics. Historically, third parties have failed in regional politics. The National Democratic Party NDP of Dr Richard Haynes in Barbados, the PLM of Dr Francis Alexis in Grenada and the MNU of Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines are three third parties that immediately come to mind. Of these three political parties and their leaders, Dr Ralph Gonsalves seems to have a comprehensive understanding of regional politics and so he was able to form a strong alliance with the St Vincent Labour Party of Vincent Beach which subsequently defeated the James Mitchell National Democratic Party NDP, after that party won all the seats in the parliament of the country. Dr Gonsalves is now serving his third consecutive term as prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Dr Gonsalves and Peter David are very close political colleagues and as such it would also be interesting to know what political advice he is receiving from his mentor as he charts his political future. The political relationship however between Dr Gonsalves and Prime Minister Mitchell has been rocky over the years, so as the political wheel turns is it a matter of the enemy of my enemy is a friend in the Grenadian political context? Politics is in the DNA of Peter David and I don’t foresee him giving up his political ambitions any time soon. The Grenadian political landscape seems to be ripe with excitement and it’s just a matter of time before the various players seek to establish themselves. The outcome of the Grenadian political scenario hinges on whether Dr Mitchell and Tillman Thomas remain political leaders of their respective parties going into the 2018 elections. Dr Mitchell has indicated that this will be his final term in office. Whether he will stick to this only time will tell. Tillman Thomas also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of him not been the NDC political leader going forward .With the political future of these two leaders entering the twilight the Grenadian political playing field is wide open for much anticipated political combat between Hon Nazim Burke and Peter David. As a member of the NDC and a senator in the new parliament Hon Nazim Burke enters the ring with a political advantage and hence the reasons why his nomination is been so severely criticized by Peter David. Mr David will have to quickly build up his political base individually, as a member of NUF or in a deal with Dr Mitchell and the NNP.
In Grenada though it is always best to work and build your own political establishment. Dr Mitchell understood this when he took over the leadership of the NNP from former Prime Minister Herbert Blaize and fashioned the NNP in his image and likeness.
If Hon Nazim Burke and Peter David is to one day emerge as prime minister of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique both men would have a lot of thinking and hard work to do. Hon Burke job may be much easier because he is already a senior leader in a mainstream political party and a senator in the nation’s parliament. In the parliament he can provide a voice for the grassroots supporters’ base of the NDC.
Peter David and the NNP is aware of the fact that the NDC is a strong political force and once their supporters and sympathisers turn out to vote the party can win a general elections.
Another obstacle Peter David may face if that of Nicholas Steele. As foreign minister if he holds a very senior and influential position within the present government. If he can perform well and establish himself within the party he can emerge as political leader of the NNP. It therefore means that he will be the candidate in the town of St George and so may have to compete with Peter David for that constituency. The other viable option open to Peter David is that if he strikes a deal with PM Mitchell, it may include him running in the St George’s Northwest. That constituency has voted overwhelmingly for Dr Mitchell for many years.
An election loss won’t deter the political ambition or conviction of any serious politician. If it did then Dr Gonsalves wouldn’t have become the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines or Dr Mitchell the prime minister of Grenada for a second time. Hon Nazim Burke should therefore not give up on his political ambitions, neither do Peter David nor any serious politician. The nation would be much better off if there are serious politicians competing fairly and honestly to represent the people. A parliamentary seat should be treated as a ‘handout ‘ or ‘ food basket’. Politicians should be made to work hard to represent our people in parliament.
As the political process unfolds it seems that the February 19th general elections have resulted in greater political uncertainties in Grenada even though the NNP won all fifteen seats. These uncertainties are compounded by the many institutional changes taking place and the continuing dire economic challenges facing the country. Grenada’s debt to GDP ratio is almost 110 and the World Bank isn’t giving the island any new loans until it can make good on monies owed to the institution. The International Monetary Fund, IMF recent report placed the Grenadian economy in a critical condition and the islands rating has been downgraded by Standard and Poor’s to SD.
The NNP administration has now joined the club of countries restructuring their massive debts because the debt repayment is unsustainable .The nation is waiting patiently to see the conditions of the pending agreement between the creditors and the NNP government of Grenada. The dire economic situation is now staring the NNP in their faces and the reality of the situation is not one of speculation but it’s a matter of reality.
Grenada can only emerge from this economic quagmire and paralysis by robust economic growth. However $5 of debt is only giving the island $1 of economic growth and so the country’s economy is struggling. The call for the people to make sacrifices by Dr Patrick Antoine senior economic adviser to government should have been made years ago since he was aware of the island’s economic problems then. It is this type of political gamesmanship that has contributed to the demise of the economy.
In conclusion if Grenada is to enjoy sustainable growth and development for overall benefit of all the people then there has to be genuine inclusion and support for any good initiatives that the current government may undertake and constructive criticism against those that may increase the national debt further without providing sustainable economic growth or damage the image of the country in the international community. The government has been given a mandate to govern. The electorate didn’t have a mechanism to dictate whether the mandate is for poor, mediocre or good governance. The party that campaigned on the good governance agenda lost and so the new leader can interpret the people’s vote as one where he has to get the job done by any means necessary. Our people needs the assurance though that Grenada will for the next five years experience a period of economic growth with good governance at the nucleus of any economic model that the NNP administration comes up with.