by JK Roberts
Would Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell with his New National Party (NNP) lose any more general elections in Grenada; at least in the near future?
Many individuals of almost every persuasion (academic, social, religious, business and political) and including those who are desirous and determined for a change in government are saying an ‘emphatic no’ to this miserable thought; although different reasons are given for the same response. A crystal-clear reason identified for affirming another win for the NNP at the next elections is based mainly on the unfair opportunities and dealings which Mitchell has over his political opponents; and this also relates to the attitude and access about the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO). Dr Mitchell seems to have the know-how and wherewithal for taking advantage of the pronounced ‘loopholes and limitations’ pertinent to the PEO; as he discloses that “…. the government of the day can have all the interest it wishes to have in the electoral process.” (https://today.caricom.org/2016/11/25/no-vote-dominates-in-grenadas-constitutional-reform-referendum/).
The reality of the miserable thought on future elections becomes more evident with the apparent weakness, the inaction or the slowness on the part of the main opposing political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC); particularly on the issues relating to the PEO and the electoral process. The NDC often boasts of being renewed, energised and ready to save Grenada’s democracy, institutions, livelihoods and patrimony, and contends that there should not be another round of voting before the electoral system is fixed; reference of its publications “NDC: Renewed and Energised To Take Grenada Forward!” and “NDC Heartbeat: Electoral Reform Before Another Referendum”. However; it is comical and incomprehensible that the NDC is yet to present a list of pertinent queries and recommendations to the people for spurring public debates and agitations toward genuine electoral reform, at least on substantial amendments to the Representation of the People Act. How serious and capable is the NDC; and/or, what are the ‘sound strategies’ of NDC in realising its ‘noble intentions’? Doesn’t the NDC understand that a working document on the electoral system is not merely about boosting its chances to win at elections but also about formulating policies for judicial and constitutional reforms if elected?
When observing the pleasure and pomposity, as well as the power and privilege, which comes with winning elections, then it is also difficult to accept that the political leadership of a party would be relinquished voluntarily with goodwill; generally, a political leader is expected to be the prime minister. The personality of Dr Mitchell and the very long period of being prime minister do not make it easy and imminent to have “a smooth transition to new leadership …. a sound succession plan that adequately prepares future leaders to seamlessly take over the reins of leadership (‘within the NNP and for the government’)”; even if worthy alternatives are available. The rhetoric and flattery offered by Mitchell time and time again in response to the question of him running for elections have been reverberated in his message on the October 2020 “midterm” Cabinet reshuffle. The issues of winning elections and term limit for a prime minister deserve meaningful attention, and also brings into play some pertinent philosophical quotes: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”; “power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts, perhaps fear of a loss of power”; “power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power”.
The repeated victory at elections of Mitchell’s NNP should also be understood in terms of the governance pattern, established during the reign of Sir Eric Matthew Gairy with his Grenada United Labour Party (GULP), which led to the violent ousting of his elected government by the New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Maurice Bishop; as chronicled by historians, political scientists and commentators. The common critical dimension at that time of Gairy and now with Mitchell is the perceived manipulating of the electoral process and the growing concerns of the making of a dictator with the blatant abuse of power; Gairy won about 6 elections out of 8.
“The history of Grenada between 1968 and 1979, but especially between 1973 and 1979, illustrates Gairy’s hopes that after 1967 (‘the year Grenada got Associated Statehood with full internal self-government’) he could perpetuate himself in power, even against popular wishes…” (Grenada – Island of Conflict, George Brizan). “In the period 1973-74 the NJM launched its first major challenge to Gairy’s power… spearheaded an alliance of anti-Gairy forces in an effort to remove Gairy from power prior to independence date on 7 February 1974. The effort failed… That defeat took a heavy toll on the NJM, as many activists became disillusioned…” (We Move Tonight – The Making of the Grenada Revolution, Joseph Ewart Layne). NJM then rebuilt with optimism.
“From 1973 to 1979, the NJM was the main opposition political party in Grenada. For the 1976 general elections, they formed an electoral coalition known as the People’s Alliance, comprising the Grenada National Party and the United People’s Party… the result was declared fraudulent by international observers… Bernard Coard, Deputy Prime Minister of the PRG (‘People Revolutionary Government’) during the Revolution, stated that the NJM won the 1976 election, and Gairy’s election fraud had convinced them that only force would remove him from office.” (By Our Own Hands – A People’s History of the Grenadian Revolution, Steve Cushion and Dennis Bartholomew). The NJM gained political mileage by, for the first time in 1976, been part of the parliament which at that time had 6 opposition Alliance members and 9 GULP members in the House of Representatives; NJM having three of the seats including Bernard Coard and Maurice Bishop (designated as Leader of the Opposition).
“So less than one year after the NJM-led People’s Alliance had come within a handful of votes of removing Gairy from office through the ballot box, the NJM was about to take a watershed step down the road of the military overthrow of Gairy… The widespread perception that Gairy had stolen the 1976 elections had led to the view that he would never give up power by peaceful means.” (We Move Tonight by Layne). “The 1976 election was the final occasion on which the NJM identified with the Westminster–style parliamentary democracy. It had exhausted all socially acceptable means by which Gairy could be dislodged from office…” (The Grenada Revolution – Reflections and Lessons, Wendy Grenade). In the interim, subversive plans were on by the NJM.
It would not be of any pleasure and progress for Grenadians to experience again the political atrocities and turbulence which propels the NJM to government in March 1979 and to its PRG’s collapse in October 1983. Fortunately; all “peaceful or socially acceptable means” have not been already exhausted under this present era of the trampling of democracy, but appropriate and reasonable measures are imperative within moral norms and constitutional provisions to abort the negative trend of governance. It is disturbing and bewildering though, that even with having a Social Partner configuration of government and civil society, there are gross evidences and strong signals of a decaying nation with an apparently high level of apathy. Recall the previously internet-circulated articles, “Could Grenada’s Democracy Be Saved”, “General Election In Grenada During Covid-19 State Of Emergency” and “Patriotic Grenadians Assist In Suing The Supervisor Of Elections!”; those articles sought to arouse every significant section and stakeholder of the people for rallying, agitating and pursuing for electoral integrity toward free and fair elections before a next elections’ date is set or before its results are announced.
A pivotal area for concentration in fighting against the corrupt attack on the ‘spirit of decent intent’ for the electoral machinery is the legislative parameters for the Computerised Voter Registration System, and with the challenging of the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) for strict compliance. Deep and thorough scientific investigation is required using advanced diagnostic software; and then this legal action must be followed with keen surveillance or monitoring by the political parties, especially during elections. That is; a satisfactory analysis on the extent of the involvement or exposure of the digital set-up for registering voters must be undertaken, to discover whether or not, and to ensure, that its ‘exclusive and precise’ use, access and connections are upheld.
This forensic inquiry should also be able to ascertain if the computers and other registration equipment for the North-East St George and South-East St George Parliamentary Election Constituency Offices, which were stolen since May 2012 in St Paul’s, are still engaged or could be engaged, and when were they last engaged, to the central computer system for registration of voters. To ignore or to be slack on this area may well define the end of any rise of another political party in government and of any remaining respect and practice of democracy, predicated on Grenada’s independence constitution. Rewarding elections fuel national democracy and stability.