Letters & Opinion

Oh, What A Night! Pole-vaulting over polls poles apart from reality!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

I was invited and agreed – no questions asked — to participate in a live broadcast of a GIS (Government Information Service) post-election discussion of the results of the 2021 General Elections on the National Television Network (NTN) on July 26.

I’d looked forward to the advertised discussion with Star Publisher Rick Wayne and News Spin host Timothy Poleon, with Dr Thomas Samuel providing an Analysis of Election Results from 1951 to 2021.

Mine was a two-part engagement: to sit with Dr Samuel and Lissa Joseph on a panel discussing the voting process in the constituencies from 2p.m. to 5p.m; and later to sit with Rick and News Spin host Timothy Poleon from 6p.m. until the last vote was counted.

I welcomed the chance to discuss the results with my two veteran colleagues – one who daily spins the news, the other an author and ‘a publisher who chooses to write…’

Even more, I welcomed the fact that this was a multimedia cooperation project involving GIS/NTN, DBS, Rhythm FM, The WAVE/WVENT and others, with aerial footage by DBS’ Chris Kessel.

I armed myself with the two manifestos issued by the SLP and the UWP, cashed-in on my memory bank’s accumulated deposits of anecdotal recollections of facts and figures from 1951-2016 elections results — and left the rest to what’s left on my eternal mental hard drive.

The first session with Lissa and Dr Samuel went very well – a veritable discussion of issues raised as the voting process took place, discussing non-partisan points raised by candidates and electors in interviews done by DBS and NTN reporters out in the field in all 17 constituencies.

Dr Samuel’s presentation allowed us to share historical notes from his Power Point presentation and my personal accounts over the same 70-year period, addressing peculiar points and sharing anecdotes, comparing results, discussing trends and generally addressing issues related to the seven decades of Saint Lucian electoral history.

The three-hour session ended with me quite upbeat about the next session involving analysis of the results as they came in, until the last vote was counted.

I later joined Rick, Tim and Dr Samuel – and another unscheduled guest, acclaimed Barbadian-Caribbean pollster Peter Wickham, who was advertised as a last-minute added discussant.

But Oh! What a night it turned out to be…

While I expected Tim would have been a fellow panelist, he was in fact the moderator; and when I thought Wickham was just another last-minute addition, it turned-out he was meant to be the star attraction (no pun intended).

Tim the Moderator didn’t introduce Wickham a highly-paid partisan player in Saint Lucia’s hottest election ball-game ever, so part of my therapeutic fun-under-protest that night was to painfully extract (from a somewhat reluctant Wickham himself) that he did provide ‘paid services’ to what he described as ‘our Saint Lucia client(s)’.

He reserved his right to cite ‘clients’ copyright’ rights to not share his findings, even suggesting that if the press wants to make use of his polls they should ‘pay for them.’

Wickham simply, absolutely and outrightly rejected my humble claim that three successive general elections in 15 years in Saint Lucia resulting in Regime Change — and each new administration given the same 11-6 parliamentary margin — was an interesting trend worth noting.

And even after the Saint Lucian electorate’s lightning rod had again struck in the same place even while we spoke — a fourth consecutive times in two decades, the pollster simply held-on to his rejection of the facts and figures that stared us all in the face.

Like all who supported his side in the partisan battle for votes in the 21-day campaign, Wickham chose to don his wooden goggles and blindly see them as just an unrelated series of similar coincidences.

By their comments and in communications with me after the show, I can say that many, many Saint Lucians at home and abroad, the Caribbean Diaspora and other regional and international audiences, including diplomats and politicians on both sides of the ideological divide, took umbrage to, were offended or simply amazed, but not at all amused by the gentleman’s assertion that the July 26 results were just another an anomaly created by COVID-19.

My tolerance levels already at boiling point, I got first signs of what the rest of my night would’ve been like after he asked how I felt about the day’s first results (that all favoured the SLP) and I (honestly) replied: ‘I feel good…’

Thereafter, the show descended (several times) into the occasional hilarious mutual admiration love-letter exchanges between Rick and Tim on ‘News Spin’.

It was crystal-clear that Tim was so amazed (if not mesmerized) by Wickham’s maze of figures and statistics that he automatically (each and every time, all-night-long) first asked the Paris-based long-distance pole-vaulting pollster to give ‘your view’ on each and every result called.

Waiting to exhale instead of hurrying to explode, I swallowed my tongue and rocked-back into my chair when Wickham displayed a patent misunderstanding of the historicity of certain political events on July 26, when he equated the UWP’s loss of the Micoud North seat with its second loss of Babonneau in three elections.

The statistics on his computer screen didn’t tell him that the two Micoud seats (North and South) have both been in the UWP camp from 1964, but were also represented till then from 1951 by the Sir John Compton.

That a young rookie SLP candidate who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident did not walk out of the campaign but returned riding even higher and eventually defeated the sitting three-term UWP MP by such a wide margin, was Caribbean political history at its very best.

Likewise that two independents had won two major seats traditionally held by the UWP in Castries Central and Castries North.

But Wickham diluted each to just another UWP loss…

Likewise, King’s defeat of his virgin girl-guide challenger on her maiden voyage (which Wickham had strongly suggested wouldn’t happen) and his earlier off-track prediction that the UWP could or would win ‘a second term’.

After all was lost (for his clients) Wickham offered the readymade excuse that hadn’t it been for COVID, the election results would have been different.

I will not here betray the confidence of the very many at home and abroad who’ve told me they were simply happy that Regime Change had been good to Saint Lucia; or those Saint Lucians who felt ‘insulted’ by what one described as ‘Unmasked arrogance being dished out by a stranger with no regard for the intelligence of Saint Lucians living the reality and feeling it at home…’

But I will betray my ultimate conclusion (long before the long night was over) that nothing that evening was coincidental.

I’d been ‘warned’ and ‘cautioned’, even scolded by close friends for what one described as ‘allowing’ myself to be ‘used’ as a ‘cosmetic Labourite’ to ‘give credibility to a loaded UWP panel…’

Other more charitable comments included ‘Best Good Luck Wishes’, ‘Don’t let them get you down…’ and ‘I know you can handle yourself anywhere…’

But I hadn’t gone to Hewanorra House with gladiatorial intent, instead hoping to share my responses as the results came in – and tease Rick and Tim (from time to time) about the fact that ‘All of us panelists have some wood in the elections fire…’

One friend (in who I am well pleased) claimed she felt I was duped, but if I measure by the yardstick of comments coming my way since Monday night from everywhere, people saw the light that long night.

I don’t yet agree with those who already claim that with another SLP administration, the ex-wannabe 2021 UWP candidate Tim has already assumed his given role of ‘Leader of the Opposition in the Media’.

I and we have known and lived with Tim for as long as he’s been spinning the news — and besides, more than ever, he’s simply doing his job.

No amount of spinning helped prevent voters from again applying the Made-in-Saint Lucia formula of Regime Change every five years for ruling parties don’t deliver during their given term.

In Wickham’s closing remarks, he congratulated incoming Prime Minister ‘Philip John Pierre’ for his victory — and challenged the SLP Leader to show he can avoid also going down in Saint Lucia’s history as just another one-term Prime Minister.

Pierre will naturally continue to be another statistic in the pollster’s future comparative analyses of Caribbean elections, but I have every reason to strongly believe Pierre has what it will take to eventually make the venerable but vulnerable Bajan pollster eat his words – again.

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