Letters & Opinion

Was Hilaire Right?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

WHEN Dr Ernest Hilaire said what he said in heat of the Dominica General Elections campaign in December 2019 that essentially predicted that the next national poll here would be the worst in Saint Lucia’s history, he couldn’t have had in mind a COVID election under a Curfew in a National State of Emergency.

Talking under the influence of seeing what Dominica’s opposition United Workers Party (UWP) did in the last days of the campaign, to prevent the popular Dominica Labour Party (DLP) from winning a fourth consecutive term (and a fifth for Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit), Dr Hilaire didn’t mix his words.

Instead, waxing poetic in mental reverse while imagining Saint Lucis’s 2021 election campaign, the SLP Deputy (in both cases) matched names and causes in defense of Labour.

His colorful political rhyme and rhythm was not the sort that wouldn’t have won him anything near the glitzy Caribbean poetry prize won recently by fellow parliamentarian Senator Adrian Augier, but it did attract the attention of the UWP here, which added an extra ton of red meat to its Election Day butcher’s list.

Meanwhile, it’s no longer difficult to establish which doctor’s scalp the UWP’s leadership wants most — Hilaire or Kenny Anthony.

During the last sitting of parliament, at least four Cabinet Ministers threateningly warned the Castries- South MP (with words to the effect) that his ‘time will soon come’…

Put that alongside the brushing-aside of Leader of Government Business in the Senate Health Minister Mary Isaac, stiff canvasser Buffalo Odlum and hesitant Timothy Poleon in favour of a candidate who never campaigned but is described by supporters as ‘He who Pays the Piper’, it’s even clearer the UWP is sure it has a noose to hang Hilaire’s red head on a yellow totem pole in Ciceron on Election Day.

Ex-Deputy Top Cop and current Home Affairs and National Security Minister Senator Hermangild Francis’ recall of his promise to fight a clean fight against Dr Anthony for the Vieux Fort South seat is also a clear indication the senator feels has a sufficiently-gilded blade to behead He who he once held high.

Mix all that with the way UWP supporters insist their party can and will turn history on its head and defy established electoral trends whenever the next elections are called and match it all with their unequivocal denial that anything went wrong in Saint Lucia since June 2016 except COVID-19, and you get the picture.

And never mind whatever the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s (ECCB) latest annual report says about Saint Lucia’s economic performance in 2020, ruling party supporters insist that once the government is able to launch and complete enough ‘infrastructural development projects’ between now and elections, Saint Lucians will give ringing re-endorsement to the ruling party whenever it decides to ring the bell.

And never mind that elections are about governments and ruling parties accounting for their stewardship, the chirping yellowbirds insist the UWP will be re-elected because the Opposition has not yet said what it will do if elected.

But all that proves is that Hilaire was most likely right, as there’s already absolutely no doubt 2021 will see an election like no other here: Under a 240-day National Emergency, parties and supporters trapped by restrictions, candidates with imbalanced campaigning opportunities, a ruling-party with an in-built five-month advantage beyond the government’s five-year term — and no polling date five years after the last one.

Like in 1987 when the Prime Minister and his ruling party resorted to unprecedented measures to legally engineer an increase of their parliamentary majority beyond what the electorate had given, the current PM and his UWP also have equal access to the same abundance of tried-and-tested wisdom that has each time allowed the party to ‘Bob-n-Weave’ between the Laws and the Constitution and ‘Rope-a-Dope’ it’s way out of being counted-out.

It’s also been able to take advantage of the general misunderstanding of the difference between ‘Prorogation’ and ‘Dissolution’ of Parliament to shift the measurement of the usual election date goalpost from the usual five years after the date of the last one, to five years after the date on which the new government was officially sworn-in.

And while lay people tried to work-out the electoral and parliamentary legalese in their minds, the ‘90-day Clause’ was extracted and applied to allow the government to legally implement a national emergency meant for ‘an act of war’, citing the ‘War on COVID-19’ to keep the government in office for an extra three months.

Nothing’s to say that the UWP here hasn’t learned from the bitter lessons of the UWP in Dominica, or that the SLP hasn’t realized it’s not the ruling party today.

Five years ago today, Saint Lucia headed into a General Election that the SLP would lose (for a second time) after what it considered good delivery performances in 2006 and 2016.

So, who is to say that today it will only take the achievement of Herd Immunity to convince Saint Lucians to break with established 15-year-old tradition and re-elect a ruling party based on hopeful second-term promises instead of accountability for first-term delivery?

But then, this is already an election like no other – Under Curfew and Lockdown, electors At Home under Restrictions with Fines and Confines, confronting Fake News and Facts dressed alike from Messengers with Muffled Messages, treating an uneasy electorate with Funny Fridays akin to weekly weekend holidays, apparent selective application of policing prevention protocols alongside selected official drips of information about essential things to know, etcetera, etcetera…

Meanwhile, just as I punched my last letter in the above sentence, the news came to my ear from my TV that the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) has dismissed — with costs — a UWP petition seeking reversal of the results in seven constituencies in the 2019 elections, without offering evidence, the court understandably accusing the party of ‘wasting’ it’s time.

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