By Earl Bousquet
Free-and-Fair and Free-from-Fear, With or Without Social Distancing?
As the island races toward a sure general elections date yet to be set, it continues to be difficult, near impossible, to keep up with the accelerated pace of related developments that link the war on COVID-19 with the battle for votes.
One day you hear the elections will be called on one date, the next day another; one day members of parliament are invited to a series of ‘urgent’ parliamentary meetings, the next day the first one is ‘called off’; one day you hear the prime minister is minded to call the elections in October, the next morning you hear he’s being urged by minders to change his mind; one day we’re told the date will depend on the availability of COVID vaccines and herd immunity; the next day we’re told there’s ‘no connection between COVID and elections’; and in the end, a discussion that became a debate turns into a quarrel over whether the topic should be ‘the COVID elections’ or ‘elections under COVID’.
It’s very much like trying to keep track with COVID numbers: today they’re up, tomorrow they’re down – and new-born ‘variants’ come so fast they’re simply christened after countries.
Or, like being an older first-time Olympic athlete chosen for the 2021 Japan Games, for whom this is the last chance to win a medal in the eyes of the world and go down in sporting history, as you’d be ‘too old’ by 2025.
You’d most likely do anything to participate in the ultimate ‘Game of My Life’, as did one American anxious wannabe Olympic medalist who earlier absolutely refused to take the COVID-19 jab, but admitted having absolutely no problem taking both pricks – to go to Tokyo.
Just think of the psychological pressure on those athletes while Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) go heads-over-heels jumping hurdles backwards, eyeballing each other while trying to avoid calling off an event postponed because of COVID that’s today even more capable of becoming a super-spreader event for an Olympic variant.
Never mind that 80 percent of Japanese oppose the Games taking place, 10,000 volunteer health workers withdrew from the event and the nation’s doctors warning the country simply cannot risk the deadly possibilities.
Same with the Grande Chefs at the French Open, who simply brushed aside and totally ignored Naomi Osaka’s typically humble plea to allow her to preserve and protect her mental health.
Instead, she was treated like a troublesome adopted child making impossible adult demands and behaving like she’s bigger than the game, punished with a heavily disproportionate fine for doing what she said she would to protect her mental health and threatened with disqualification and send her home in shame – if she didn’t do as told.
Naomi played her balls well-enough off the Paris court to show the insensitive aristocrats she could have shown them her middle finger, but simply chose to just take her racket, pack her bags and go home.
But unlike the Black, Brown and Asian world star – who’s already number two in the world with only two Wimbledon Cups on her trophy shelf – the 2021 Olympic hopefuls have nothing to hold on to except their high hopes, knowing that apart from the running threat to their health, Japan and the IOC are simply looking to see who’ll blink first.
Why? Because whichever first takes the highly-inescapable decision to ‘Call the Games Off!’ will eventually, have to (legally) bear the full costs of refunding the other.
In both cases, players’ health was placed on the back burner while the head honchos worried instead about keeping the press happy, putting dollars before lives and profits before people.
The same can be said even though much differently with Saint Lucia, where the date for the next general elections has become like a ripe mango ready to fall and voters handcuffed and forcibly gathered to wait patiently under the tree, heads up and mouths open wide, each to pray to be the lucky one when the rosy-red Julie mango eventually falls through the branches from the treetop.
It’s the first time in the island’s nine general elections in 42 years since independence that five years have passed without a date for the next elections.
And with no set election date, only the prime minister (along with or according to the advice of selected minders and mind-benders at home and abroad) will make that decision.
Obviously, unwilling to call an election that he simply must by October and with insufficient time to reverse the tide, the prime minister has been able to keep impatient candidates at bay while swimming against the tidal wave to play for time.
Meanwhile, interesting events continue to unfold in the horse race to the election finish line – like the ‘return home’ of a jaundiced runaway child who left his mother’s home a decade ago seeking greener pastures in red zones, only to contract Red Eye infections that eventually forced him to grind his way ‘Back Home to Mama’ ten years later – a very disappointed man – on a yellow Gros Islet minibus.
But with time and history not on his side, the prime minister is running out of options, also being told his only choice being to mark time to please the tongues waxing his ears with calls for him to call the polls earlier than later, or to ‘further extend the National COVID Emergency’ in the name of ‘continuing the war on COVID’ and therefore ‘legally keeping the election date in his back pocket indefinitely.’
Or, he can ‘secure the necessary half-a-million COVID-19 vaccines needed for herd immunity from president Biden’ and then make ‘successful vaccination of the population against COVID’ his party’s ‘greatest single achievement’ and qualifying it as ‘worthy of re-election’.
This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of that day Saint Lucians fingered the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration out of office with red-tipped fingers, and the United Workers Party (UWP) is moving hell and high water to prevent what happened three consecutive times in three elections in 15 years from being repeated a fourth time in 20 years.
Whenever called, the next national poll will certainly be the most fiercely fought over by two major parties, neither of which can afford to lose – and none of whose supporters will just stand aside and watch the other win.
In the meantime, impatient registered and new voters clamouring for ‘Elections Now!’ are being strongly urged by the government to maintain social distancing, mask their true political feelings and wash their hands (and hearts) of any fears or concerns about whether the next general elections will be free and fair and free from fear!