Letters & Opinion

Election Horses Off! — Ready, Set, Budget…

By Earl Bousquet

The Prime Minister says the ‘date’ for the next national poll is the furthest away from his mind.

But this being Election Year – and in the COVID era when everything has changed — it would be fruitless, even foolish, to expect he does not have the election itself as the closest thing on his mind.

Or that this year’s General Elections will be like any other.

Everything’s changed: campaigning is off-road and online, public meetings have given way to Virtual Town Halls – political meetings are now live-streamed and candidates are going heads-over-heels to find the right hybrid between virtual and actual campaigning.

But everything is happening too: government’s information machinery is well-oiled and fully charged, blasting on all pistons — and more of everything being done everywhere looks, sounds and even smells like elections are around the corner.

Except that only one voter knows which corner…

Traditional campaigning crippled by COVID protocols that ruling party candidates in government can easily override, criticism is being muffled through opposition press conferences mainly pressing for Elections Now!

One crystal-clear COVID effect on our politics is that the next election is already largely being fought online.

Another is that unlike the past, neither part is (yet) talking about Manifestos.

The ruling party is campaigning like nothing ever went wrong under its watch in the past five years; and the opposition maintains those with the majority of ‘Ayes’ in the ‘House’ have failed to deliver on their 2016 promises, so ‘All must go!’

The 2021-2022 Budget and the parliamentary debates have already confirmed it’s a pure Election Budget, MPs on both sides knowing it’s their last before facing the polls again.

It’s clear the Prime Minister is enjoying the absolute pleasure of leaving the Opposition, his Cabinet Ministers and The Nation guessing. After all, he has what the Electoral Department’s website describes as a ‘Power of Discretion’ that somehow adds an ‘Element of Spontaneity’ to the electoral process ‘that does not exist in systems where voting dates are fixed on the calendar.’

The phrases are descriptive – and debatable.

But the website also aptly notes that ‘Prime Ministers generally ask the Head of State to dissolve Parliament when they think their party has the best chance of winning a General Election.’

This same ‘Element of Spontaneity’ also allows any prime minister to call ‘snap elections’ – again according to the ruling party’s ‘best chance of winning…’

Be all that as it may, our election laws are no different from those elsewhere that are supposed to level unequal playing fields.

In the USA, there’s a set election date, but it hasn’t changed how elections are fought. In the USA and Europe, elections laws are also supposed to outlaw unfair financing advantages by asking donors declare their contributions – seen by many as merely legitimizing the business of buying of votes and investing in political favors by only asking donors to declare how much they wagered on their ‘elections bets’.

The government and ruling party have clearly decided to mount a ‘do-or-die’ propaganda offensive to offset the psychological effect of the results of the last three general elections offering clear empirical evidence that the next poll can again result in Regime Change.

The 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections resulted in each ruling party being voted out after one term – and each new administration given the same 11-6 victory margin.

Naturally, this is a selectively suicidal historical truism and those it can kill politically have instead chosen to throw all bets into being able to convince voters to break the historical trend and give the current ruling party ten years to deliver what it promised in five.

The COVID-19 effect — and now the ashen and refugee aftermaths of the Saint Vincent volcano eruption – will be dominant issues on voters’ minds during whatever is left of the current silent election campaign.

The ruling party is naturally hoping voters will not vote on the basis of how they feel after the last five years, or how much their elected representatives may (or may not) have delivered, or whether the government has really done enough to actually deserve another term.

The opposition is insisting, however, that just as it learned twice from the last three elections, Saint Lucians have long decided it’s now the current ruling party’s turn to be taught that punishing one-term lesson the electorate has become schooled in for 15 years.

The government insists it can revise and rewrite history, but the opposition insists voters simply won’t allow that, on the basis of this administration’s record. Government insists its emphasis on job-creating infrastructural projects and its handling of the COVID crisis will help keep ruling-party supporters and change opposing and/or undecided minds, but the Opposition is just as hell-bent on not allowing new and undecided voters forget the ruling party’s most important 2016 promises.

Both sides are going all-out to win, in which case the 2021 General Elections will definitely be the ‘Mother and Father of All Elections’ that I long predicted, with neither side affording to lose.

I still hold that while some continue to conveniently ignore the fact, Saint Lucia’s voters have set a world record as the only electorate that has, in the 21st Century, voted three consecutive times for Regime Change in national polls, each time returning the exact same results.

Each side’s going all-out to prove the other wrong – one to show it can stop history in its tracks, the other to confirm history is created by trends. However, either way does not matter at all, as this global record is already set – and cannot easily be erased.

What a fourth consecutive Regime Change would do, is simply reconfirm the telling historical trend – and underline the fact that Saint Lucia’s voters have so long ago invented the perfect formula for how to punish a ruling party anytime it fails to deliver, or convince (them) it deserves re-election.

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