By Earl Bousquet
Will the island’s estimated 175,000 voters today cast their ballots to ‘Save Our Saint Lucia’ (S.O.S.), or will they further cave the island’s future as they head to the polls today to select, reject and elect candidates and parties, to keep or chase the outgoing government, to make tomorrow just another day, or a brand-new day for self and/or country.
The police pulled the plug on the campaigns last night and this morning traditionally early voters – mainly elderlies and adults – who hadn’t bothered to check where they would be voting this year were guided to their new polling stations or any of the new ‘voting tents’ set-up for the same purpose.
Elections observers from CARICOM, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) are on hand and lots of overseas-based Saint Lucian voters are also back home for today’s historic vote, all joined by thousands of new voters who turned 18 since the last (June 2016) general elections – and many voters traditional non-voters who’ve decided the issues are serious enough to vote in 2021 for the first time.
As always, there are two main narratives – and the in-betweens: the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) insists it’ll win again, the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) equally sure it’ll be victorious, while the new Green Party is rolling its dices for a Lucky 7 and two independent candidates sound and seem more confident than all others.
The last week and final days also saw the UWP’s Top Brass keep their fingers on the panic button as they responded to the overwhelming endorsements of former prime minister and UWP leader Stephenson King’s decision to throw in his yellow towel and wave a blue flag.
The UWP responded as expected to the endorsements of King’s ‘Blue Wave’ by prominent political figures from all parties. But it was their response to Lady Janice Compton that took the cake – and burned it badly.
The wife of the UWP’s late founder leader Sir John Compton, former first Lady Janice Compton, on Saturday night, endorsed King and Jeremiah Norbert, the SLP’s young candidate for Micoud North, saying the young man was ready to do a better job for the constituency her husband built his career in and King had done the right thing considering how he was treated.
But the UWP’s flaming torches verily burned her alive like a local Joan of ARC, taking her to task for ‘behaving like Sir John left the party for her, in his will.’
Lady Janice’s testimony was along the line of all the other traditional original UWP supports who’ve drifted away or pulled their support from the party saying they no longer recognize the party they supported all their lives, concluding: ‘Sa Pa Flambo!’ (‘This isn’t UWP!’).
But the responses from the party her husband led and Stephenson King served all their lives were both way-below-the-belt and a trashing their respective personal contributions to the UWP to the scrapheap of Saint Lucia’s history.
As the party whose performance is being voted on today on the basis of its request for a second five-year term from an electorate that has shown its propensity for regime change after each of the past three general elections, the UWP has thrown every cent it could into advertising.
It’s also banked on the best regional and international support it could get from locally-deployed teams from the likes of ‘Cambridge Analytica’ (by whatever new name) wearing UWP campaign T-shirts alongside local activists on the campaign trail, to most-guarded supportive analyses by Barbados-based pollster Peter Wickham and his CADRES outfit.
But as the 21-day election window started closing last week and persons unseen and unheard for years started crawling hurriedly out of the national woodwork – most to support King – the UWP unleashed every last barrage it could against all opponents, but zeroed-in on King and Castries Central ‘Independent Labour’ candidate Richard Frederick.
Frederick has been more than just a bore or a pain in the bare bottom for the UWP in the past five years. His weekly TV show in the past year, months and weeks solely dedicated to the exposure of actions main players allegedly associated with the government would have preferred to remain secret.
Frederick, a former policeman, experienced lawyer, businessman and real estate developer with more than just a passing understanding of where to find and how to read and interpret legal and official documents has consistently exposed embarrassing information on transactions allegedly involving government officials – from the prime minister and Cabinet ministers to favored contractors, business persons with common family names and favoured foreign investors given sweetheart deals that locals with equal capacity to handle could only dream of.
Frederick’s most recent exposures raised more and more questions about the legality of land transactions and business deals benefitting top government officials, or ‘friends and family’ of leading government officials, including one of the prime minister’s private attorneys.
Last week, Frederick exposed what he said were last-minute deals to bind the government to sale and/or transfer of government properties and/or government bodies, including what he claimed was an arrangement to sell or transfer control of three fishing complexes in Castries, Soufriere and Vieux Fort, ostensibly made available to Saint Lucia as a gift from Japan.
Frederick urged government officials due to sign the related documents not to, as their legality could be in question.
Hogging the Talk Show circuit during the last five days of the campaign, Frederick was relentless in his exposure of matters the UWP would have preferred not become public issues.
On Friday, the UWP’s international mind-bending network went to town on Frederick, releasing a slick propaganda video re-hashing all that’s been said since the US withdrew his visa years ago, but polished with a foreign (neocolonial) accent, for added cultural effect.
The video sought to play King and Frederick’s earlier gubernatorial and personal relationships against each other and somehow brought SLP leader Philip J. Pierre into the picture, asking: ‘Which of the three will be prime minister?’ – a question that also sounded like an acknowledgement that the next prime minister will not be the current one – or a UWP nominee.
Like always, the SLP has again been able to mount a meticulous election campaign, but this time concentrating on presenting a slate chiselled to suit its strategic alliance with the two Castries independents (King and Frederick) in the wider quest of defeating the UWP today.
The SLP presented its manifesto online, followed two nights later by the UWP.
The usual very late presentations of the manifestos helped add to the elections hype more than influence how people will vote today, maintaining the historical trend of manifestos being more seen and treated as elections memorabilia and/or for reference purposes.
Printing and publishing manifestos have always been more of a boon for private printeries every five years, an expenditure the paid electoral returns on which is hardly ever known, far less justified.
Online publication and launch of manifestos, as with all other major activities before the caution was thrown to the wind in the last 14-days of the three-week, has limited access to only those online, which continues to be a lesser number of voters than largely thought.
Besides, with IT increasingly turning reading into an endangered activity here and COVID forcing restrictions to online presentations enforced by social distancing protocols, the manifesto promises largely remain within the pages outlining them, contents to be conditioned by unknown realities to be inherited by whichever party wins.
Perhaps Saint Lucia can take a page from what used to happen in the UK, where the chief Cabinet Secretary’s main task after every election was to take the manifesto of the winning party and send the relevant sections to the respective ministries’ permanent secretaries, to ensure the promises on which the party won are indeed implemented by the government it appoints.
Much as the UWP’s information machine would not like to ‘fess-up’ to the cold COVID facts, like everywhere else, voters today will also have taken into consideration the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Saint Lucia’s record is embarrassingly bad compared to all its small island neighbours, with more deaths and registered cases than all fellow OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) neighbours combined.
The number of COVID deaths was statistically reduced in the days leading to the election, by the introduction of new yardsticks to differentiate between ‘COVID deaths’ and ‘COVID-related deaths…’
But the government’s performance in the fight against COVID will have been already considered by voters lining up at the polls today.
COVID fatigue and exhaustion caused by extreme lockdowns and restrictive protection protocols led to extreme levels of vaccine hesitance at a time when vaccinations are most needed, especially if herd Immunity is still an objective. And late (April 2021) private arrangements for the provision of vaccines at allegedly questionable costs have not helped paint a positive picture either.
COVID is the last thing on the minds of the candidates today, but it continues to be a number-one issue on people’s minds everywhere and politicians continue to pay a heavy price for ignoring how people feel about how they’re handling the worst pandemic the world has known in recent times.
But politicians also take the risk of also learning (or being reminded) of what a difference a day can make in politics. For example, just this morning the president of Tunisia announced he’s fired the Tunisian prime minister, after a one-day protest against his government’s handling of the COVID crisis.
Whether Saint Lucian voters will take a page from the Tunisian president’s handbook will be known in less than one day. But whatever their decision and whichever party or parties and candidates emerge(s) victorious, the next Saint Lucia government will most likely have to be ready to tackle the feared ‘fourth COVID wave’ that might emerge from the assisted and willful abandonment of the protocols during the elections campaigning.
And then there’s the ‘One Vote’ factor… Also capable of winning or losing seats and elections by one vote, parties and candidates have been encouraging or discouraging voters accordingly, each saying a vote for them is one for the nation.
With many expressing frustrations about late changes, new polling station venues and the usual uncertainty about what documents are needed to vote, they’re are being advised that once their name is on the voters’ list with the ID Card’s information, they can vote – even if the card has expired.
But with elections history pregnant with evidence that just one vote is all it takes to make the difference between winning and losing, parties’ elections agents can be expected today to also be that more serious in their scrutiny of votes cast and counted.
Mother and Father
This is easily Saint Lucia’s Mother Of All Elections, taking place in the shadows of the Father Of All Pandemics, at a time when the rest of the world is coming around to accepting that the 2020 Olympics are finally taking place, while floods drown Europe and wildfires burn North America, 100 days ahead of COP-21 in Glasgow, when the focus will be on global Climate Change.
But foreign policy and foreign affairs not traditionally being part of domestic political issues debated during Caribbean national elections campaigns, none of the above international issues matter in the minds of most of those seeking office today.
Instead, voters will be treating today as the usual five-year Judgment Day, the only time when they are made to feel their votes matter in a way that it indeed does to the candidate more than the voter who owns it.
As always, new voters and absentees will play their respective parts in adding to and subtracting from votes cast, but the unknown numbers of UWP supporters who no longer support the party’s present leadership remains a worrying unknown for the leadership.
I was intrigued by the latest analysis I heard from CADRES’ Peter Wickham to the effect that given the COVID effect and all other factors, he has doubts King and Frederick will be able to win the seats they’re after, but in end, he saw both UWP and SLP having equal chances of winning, but also concluding the UWP can also lose.
But this already long being an election of unlimited precedents and countless unknowns, perhaps the best admission of the unknown effects of the unknown factor is contained in the following almost-uncertain response from a usually-certain friend to my questions about how she sees the outcome.
She said, ‘I don’t know who’ll win, but I can see the UWP losing!’
To which finally I replied, ‘Me too!’