IN just four days, Saint Lucians will make a crucial decision that will have a huge impact on the governance of their country. Whether they do vote or not, the statement they will make at the polls will be one that can either improve their lives or haunt them for years to come. That is why the votes we cast next Monday go far beyond red or yellow. In fact, those votes must be cast in the interest and spirit of blue, yellow, black and white.
For almost a year now, the political campaigns from both the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and United Workers’ Party (UWP) have been heating up – both in spirit and rhetoric. Through stump speeches, Saint Lucians were given clues as to who the corrupt politicians among us are. Ironically, some of the so-called transgressors are up as choices in Monday’s polls, having never seen a day in court for their alleged infelicities. So much for the pursuit of justice in a State where our laws quite often benefit the lawless.
As a potential voter, I cannot say that the past four and a half years have impressed me much. Neither did the previous five years. Like many voters, I think I expect too much from politicians. It’s like a Freudian slip on my part. My only defence, however, is that if people go to extreme lengths to convince a nation that they can change their circumstances for the better, then no amount of excuses, including the “due to limited resources” disclaimer that pops up when they assume office, should absolve them from breaching such contracts of faith. Period!
By now, many Saint Lucians would have known which candidate and/or party they would cast their votes for. However, I still find myself in the pool of undecided voters now accounting for 30%. For the first time since I began voting in 1997 have I found myself in the predicament where I cannot make up my mind this close to general elections. So decided was I in November 2011 that I turned my back on my mother’s Brooklyn apartment and a green card two days before the general elections and came back home to stain my finger for a better Saint Lucia. I’m still waiting for it and I’m still here.
According to political pundits and voters alike, Monday’s general elections will be decided by the 30% mass of undecided voters. However, there is another crucial dimension to that outcome: those people who will choose not to vote. In fact, that non-voting segment is so important that it often eclipses the percentage of votes either major political party here gets on elections day.
Between 1992 and 2011, the average non-voter segment was 40.4%, with its lowest during that period being 37% in 1992 and its highest 47% in 2001. Those are staggering figures, indeed, especially when one considers that no political party has amassed at least 30% of the total number of eligible votes in the last three general elections.
The voting patterns also indicate that there were a 1% and 2% difference in the total votes both parties received in the last two general elections (UWP received 29% and SLP 28% in 2006, while SLP received 28% and UWP 26% in 2011).
With more media houses and social media platforms where people can express their opinions on matters of national interests, the fashionable thing these days seems to be railing against the establishment. Many people believe that with technologies being improved upon by the minute, government needs to keep abreast with the changing tastes of a populace that is more in-synch with the now-for-now mentality. Political parties, too, sometimes overplay their hands by presenting grandiose plans in manifestos only to apologize later and beg for another term to finish them.
This year, the campaign season reiterated the job creation promises to especially the youth demographic, half of whom are now without employment. Healthcare, improved roads, tax relief, energy independence, revising the education curriculum, stimulating economic activity in the business sector, reviving agriculture and manufacturing, and tackling crime were some of the other campaign promises being made. All good intentions, really, but many potential voters remain wary.
There is no denying that the homeland is facing more than its fair share of woes. High unemployment, runaway crime and abject poverty are so deeply ingrained that many people have either already gotten used to it or perched too far up the socio-economic ladder to notice those conditions actually exist.
Despite the best efforts of this last government, many people continue to complain that enough has not been done to ameliorate their plight. Others believe that the government had done its best given the circumstances, which is a common denominator even political parties use to justify their performance.
Add to the mix the stigma of allegations of abuse of Taiwanese funds by some politicians, the IMPACS report, the unsavoury happenings said to have transpired at the forensics lab and crucial healthcare institutions yet to be opened, the scenario becomes too vertiginous to wade through with a straight face.
While I will vote on Monday, I remain undecided for now as to whom I will vote for. I think I should be allowed the leeway of going last-minute on this one. While I have heard quite a few excellent plans being espoused by both major parties, I’m still poring over past experiences whereby similar promises were made and never delivered.
I prefer to take the cricket analogy on this election, whereby the match is not decided until the last ball is bowled. Between now and Monday, some party might surprise me by announcing that the Pitons will start raining Skittles should they form the next government. By Monday, too, I would have determined whether my last vote meant much and if I should trust the next one in the hands of people offering me life insurance that I seldom qualify for. If you asked me, I feel like their deductible at times.
If anything, I feel like I actually am the candidates’ boss at the moment. By Tuesday, however, I know I will go back to being the servant of whoever gets in; when I have to shut up again for another five years like I’ve been told to do since casting my first vote in 1997. After Monday, I’m expected to not disagree with any party’s policies or handling of national affairs because the vote I cast would have been the last voice I have until next general elections.
Nevertheless, I encourage all Saint Lucians to go to the polls on Monday and vote for the candidate and/or party of your choice. Make every effort to do so because your actual vote matters. Huge crowds at political rallies mean nothing much on election day, really. Also, respect other people’s views being expressed between now and after the results and refrain from getting physically and/or verbally abusive in your arguments. We’re a two-party system and all our views must be expressed regardless of what political party we support.
Finally, the party forming the next government must not only consider itself victorious by winning the most seats. People would have placed their trust and confidence in you to do your best to raise the socio-economic standards of our country. Many of them voting for the first time are actually doing so on their future generations’ behalf. Time flies by quickly, so get to work immediately.
As I end, the following quote by Michael Harris as cited by Dr. Didacus Jules in his lecture, “St. Lucia’s Survival Options”, delivered at the Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial Lecture in January 2012, seems apt:
“Governance is not government… [Government] refers to the group of men and women who hold office at any particular time, the policies they pursue and the decisions that they make. Governance, on the other hand, goes beyond the functions of government and refers primarily to the relationship between the people and their government and to how this relationship affects and is affected by the processes by which governments make their policies and decisions and seek to implement them… Good governance does not guarantee good government but good government is not possible in the absence of good governance.”
I wish Saint Lucia and all fellow Saint Lucians a safe, free and fair elections and prosperity.