Letters & Opinion

Mitchell vs Mitchell Will Grenada’s next PM be a Doctor or a Lawyer?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

General Elections take place tomorrow in Grenada with the two major parties both claiming to have majority support and both claiming they’ll win, but none actually showing how.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), led by lawyer Dickon Mitchell are the two major parties in the contest and whichever wins, the next Prime Minister will have the same surname as his opponent.

Prime Minister Mitchell, at 75, is contesting what he has promised will be his last general elections and he wants the NNP to be elected one more time, to allow him a graceful exit after being successfully re-elected five times since 1983.

But the NDC’s younger Mitchell, at 44, says it’s time for change, after the NNP won all 15 seats in the last two general elections in 2013 and 2018.

The NDC has been pulling apparently bigger crowds than the NNP in the last days leading to Thursday’s national poll, but in a region and country where pre-election polls are rare and rarely accurate and many voters often hide their actual intentions, which party will win the race remains uncertain.

The NNP is not expected to win all seats for a third consecutive time in 2022, but the NDC will also have a high mountain to climb to ensure it can win at least eight seats to earn a parliamentary majority.

Like in most Caribbean islands, there are few reliably unattached sources in the local Grenada media; and commentators are all known to support one side or another, with hardly anyone considered independent enough to be quoted as a reliable election weather vane.

But like everywhere else too, the government and ruling party have had to face and handle the results of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years, the resulting Supply Chain problems that have caused serious shortages and the further effects of the war in Ukraine on food and fuel prices, which continue to rise.

Prime Minister Mitchell is hoping that late pre-election decisions to pay pensions to pensioners and promises of better service after winning what he promises will be his last election will influence those to benefit from the promised payments assured for 2022, but after the elections.

He has also promised that while he’ll pay pensioners already at home this year in the 2022-2023 Budget that hasn’t been presented and promises to after the elections (if re-elected).

But if crowd attendance at meetings is a good yardstick, the call for change is loud and there’s much evidence that Mitchel and the NNP might very well have expectedly lost some support to the NDC.

There’s also the role traditionally played by overseas-based Grenadians returning home to vote, which always helps influence the outcome of elections in the usual race between the two major parties.

Hundreds of voters have flown home from the USA, UK and from other Caribbean islands in the past week for Thursday’s elections and they are being heavily (even secretly) canvassed, before leaving their adopted overseas homes and on arrival at the airport, by agents of both major parties.

Less than 75,000 registered voters will qualify to vote, but it’s expected there’ll be a heavier turnout this election due to the number of young people registering to cast their first vote – and the NNP and the NDC having gone all-out in the past month to win as many new voters as possible.

The NDC’s Mitchell has been campaigning on promoting change, accusing the NNP of recycling the “same old” characters to head government bodies, election after election.

The NNP is credited with keeping the country stable, but the after-effects of COVID and the Ukraine War may eat into its support base, which is still strong, not having lost any seats in the last two polls in the ‘first-past-the-post’ election that can result in a party not winning any seats, but commanding a greater level of support not reflected in the number of seats won, but in the number of votes cast.

There was a high 73.6% turnout in the March 13, 2018 elections and all signs are that there may be another high turnout on Thursday, given the high level of interest manifested during one of Grenada’s hottest election campaigns in the eight held since the US-led invasion in 1983 that ended the four-and-a-half years of the 1979 Grenada Revolution.

The current voters list has 87,994 for 2022 and there were only 78,122 registered for the 2018 elections, but it is expected the turnout will be high enough, forcing all the contesting parties to aim at influencing new voters, as traditional party supporters hardly change their minds from election to election.

Predictions are wild, as the wind of change is blowing strongly in Grenada, but the NNP’s 15-seat majority enables it to start-off with that clear advantage, with most quiet pundits only prepared to suggest NDC might win enough seats to provide a powerful opposition to a future NNP during what PM Mitchell has promised would be his last term.

The fact that PM Mitchell is banking so much on winning sympathetic votes and attracting the support of retirees and government pensioners is also being interpreted as his acceptance that the youth vote, new voters and votes from overseas-based Grenadians might be enough to embolden and strengthen the NDC’s support on Thursday.

There are at least four other parties registered to contest the elections, but none has had enough support in the last three elections to win any seat, leaving the battle again this time to the NNP and the NDC.

Forty-one candidates will contest Thursday’s poll for the 15 seats, but the race boils down – again – between the NNP and the NDC –and between two party leaders with the same surname, but very opposite positions on where the country stands now and where it should be heading in the current regional and global situation.

Therefore, when Grenadians go to their respective polling stations to cast their votes on June 23, the only assurance all will have is that the next Prime Minister on Friday morning will be a Mitchell, leaving which one to be decided after all the votes are counted Thursday night.

Meanwhile, another assurance is that neither of the two main parties will dump China as a longstanding Grenada ally.

The NNP has remained supportive of China and the NDC, under the new leader, hasn’t stated any public position on the issue.

The NDC’s Mitchell has evaded addressing the issue during the campaign, as Foreign Affairs is never an issue in domestic politics ahead of Caribbean elections.

But when last in office, the NDC maintained inherited ties with China; and a source close to the current leader tells me the current opposition party, if it wins, “will maintain existing ties with all countries that currently recognise Grenada and will respect our sovereignty.”

Grenada established diplomatic ties with China following the 1979 Revolution and there’s been no change since then.

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