Letters & Opinion

More in the COVID Election mortar than just the Herd Immunity pestle?

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

IT was always crystal clear that the last thing the United Workers Party (UWP) wanted was to face a General Election under COVID-19 – but, wish and pray as it may, at the end of the day this is exactly what it’s got.

Today, despite his earlier assurances that would never be, the Prime Minister has elected to have the nation prepare for a COVID Election with Curfew and a State of Emergency – unless, as he’s also repeatedly said since its passage, the Governor General decides to end the Emergency by ‘simply issuing a declaration’.

With no date forthcoming and the fifth anniversary of the June 6, 2016 General Elections exactly one week away, the PM has made it known that the date for the next national poll will be attached to the achievement of the government’s main battle victory in the ‘War on COVID’: Herd Immunity.

Like playing ‘Lucky Bag’ or likewise choosing a date from suggestions on slips of paper in a Bowler Hat, determination of the election date has been fixed to everything: from application of the outdated and never-used ‘90-day Extension of the government’s life (allowed by law), to changing the traditional measurement of the five-year term from the date of the election to the date of the first meeting of the new parliament, to the five-month extension of the February Emergency from 90 days to 240, ending Friday, October 15.

With several possible starting points and just a deadline date on the line, it will take Opposition Leader Philip J. Pierre more than just a simple understanding of the new applications of Multiple Mathematical Political Metamorphoses in the Age of Global Warming, Climate Change and Electoral Politicking to decide from where to start counting and how many days, weeks or months are left before polling day.

The only card with a date on the table right now reads ‘Friday, October 15’, leaving average minds boggling while the Prime Minister tries his best to play the rest closest he can — to his chest.

But with the Opposition Leader recently again reminding his parliamentary opponents that he ‘always scored higher in Maths than in English at College’, it can be safely assumed that the Man of Figures will already have figured-out the shortest fraction of a distance between whenever the government decides it’s five-year term is up — and the endgame date of ‘Friday, October 15’.

But it would also appear that there’s more in the 2021 elections mortar than just the Herd Immunity pestle, as the government has also made it clear the election date is also connected to its ability to complete ‘infrastructural development’ and ‘construction’ projects aimed at influencing voters ahead of the crucial poll.

Here again, the hold-up is also COVID-related, having to do with delayed and uncertain arrivals of shipments of construction materials and building supplies needed to start and complete the likes of road and housing and other employment-generating projects — before Election Day.

By tying the election date to Herd Immunity and completion of pre-election projects delayed by COVID restrictions on shipping, the government has made it even clearer that these two elements in the mortar might just be the first ingredients for an electoral concoction that’s still awaiting some more spicy additions.

With the scientists saying COVID will be with us until at least 2024 and Saint Lucia being the only CARICOM government with an expressed unwillingness to go to the polls under COVID, there’s understandable speculation that the Prime Minister is likely being advised (at home and abroad) to continue playing ‘by the book’.

Related word is that the PM is actually being advised abroad to find sufficient reasons to invoke laws and constitutional provisions that will allow him to continue to legally extend the ‘War on COVID’ and the Emergency – and consequently, the Government’s life — even if only through the Prime Minister, who remains in office until a new PM is appointed by the Governor General after the elections.

But word from home is also that an increasing number of uncertain Cabinet ministers and new candidates are telling the PM that as far as the vibes they can hear, see and feel, the longer he waits, the worse it will be.

Of course, UWP stags continue to brandish and blow their horns about winning the elections ‘16-1’ anytime it is called, but that’s quite baffling, especially when one considers that Prime Ministers call elections when – and only when — they are convinced their party will win.

The Opposition, loudly claiming to have been stumped into having to watch the government and ruling party successfully skirting the restrictions through silent but selective policing of the prevention protocols, is betting highly on the electorate not abandoning its three-times-manifested and punishing 15-year formula of selecting to elect for Regime Change every five years.

Accusing the Prime Minister of resorting to ‘flashing mirror’ types of diversions like ‘dancing on TV for votes’, the Opposition Leader is also counting on his long-held belief that ‘Young people cannot be fooled’ — and would therefore not be attracted by the dollars being offered for votes or ‘hampers for vaccines.’

But this being the first General Elections to be openly held under COVID Lockdown and policed by a Force being encouraged by its Commissioner not to be forced into fear of not using force when they deem force necessary, there are also understandable Opposition fears that the next elections might see a greater degree of policing than any other.

Indeed, some are loudly arguing that the recent shuffling (or reshuffling) of Top Cops that resulted in the appointment of a new Police Commissioner on a two-year contract less than a year before due General Elections, might very well have been the first major ingredient, quietly placed – even before the pestle — in the COVID Election mortar.

Meanwhile, with news that the Americans may soon dump a heavy dose of gifted vaccines Saint Lucia’s way from its hundreds of millions of hoarded stocks and the local health authorities still sounding very confident that the UN’s COVAX vaccines will get here before ‘Friday, October 15’, it would normally have been safe to assume that Herd Immunity may very well be in sight.

But here again, the distant light being hoped for at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel that’s growing even longer in 2021 and may last until 2024 is growing dimmer by the day — and even more distant by night.

The next question might therefore very well be whether Herd Immunity will still be the untested yardstick, or the big global COVID litmus test the Prime Minister is accused of inviting Big Pharma to make Saint Lucia a small lab.

And if Saint Lucia gets to the point of vaccinating the least 126,000 persons required to qualify for testing the truthfulness of the claimed effectiveness of the Herd Immunity before ‘Friday, October 15’, will the Prime Minister consider that ‘Mission Accomplished’?

Or, will he await the findings (as per evidence of national COVID immunity) before deciding if and when to end the ‘War on COVID’ and call the election, which has thus far proven to be (at least) as elusive as the Coronavirus.

And what about ‘Friday the 15th‘?

If that’s the preferred or inescapable final endgame deadline, does it mean that Saint Lucia would break with tradition and not hold the election on a Monday?

The only choice right now seems to be to wait and see what other ingredients might be placed into the mortar before the pestle is put to work.

But from all appearances, in keeping with the global climate change that’s also affected politics across the Caribbean, it must also be expected that the accumulated effects of COVID Fatigue and still-high levels of Vaccine Hesitancy and/or Resistance may also effectively serve to immunize the same body politic the mortar-and-pestle concoction is supposed to vaccinate against.

Which would take us back to Square One of the original COVID Election Date Conundrum – only this time, Three Times-squared.

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