Two elections two days apart

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 2/7/2013, 1:47 p.m.

Voters in two not-so-politically insignificant nations of the Caribbean trade bloc will go to the polls this month to elect a new government two days apart in much the same way they did in 1999, with pollsters predicting an uphill task for two prime ministers who are widely regarded as the dullest and most uncharismatic of regional leaders in recent times.

Grenada's Tillman Thomas, whose New National Democratic Congress (NDC) had won 11 of the 15 constituency seats when Grenadians last voted in 2008, is facing an electorate that is well aware that his NDC has split down the middle. Some of its best-known names, including former Foreign Minister Peter David, walked out on him for various reasons--his dour leadership style being one of them.

The elections and boundaries commission says that about 60,000 islanders are eligible to vote on Feb. 19, but how many of them will stay with his party rather than vote for former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's New National Party (NNP) is left to be seen.

Mitchell's time in office--three lengthy terms--was characterized by widespread and credible allegations of corruption involving cabinet ministers and other top officials. Whether voters are ready to have the mathematician and avowed regionalist back in charge is up for debate, analysts say, even as the NDC is politically weakened and less united than when it swept to office five years ago.

Ironically, nearly the same considerations are on the table in nearby Barbados, where Thomas' fellow attorney Freundel Stuart will try for a second five-year term on Feb. 21. In 1999, the two countries had also held elections less than a week apart, while Guyana and St. Lucia had held theirs on the same day back in November 2011.

Aside from dealing with deep economic troubles, voters on the island of about 300,000 are debating whether to dump Stuart and his Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and replace them with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur's Barbados Labor Party (BLP), which ran the country from 1994 to 2008. The DLP won 20 of the 30 seats in a landslide victory in the last elections in a runoff that indicated that voters at the time had grown tired of Arthur and that the voting population felt he and some ministers had become politically arrogant. Whether they are ready to return him to power also remains to be seen, much like the situation in Grenada.

Like the two main parties of the U.S., the BLP and the DLP will dominate the landscape in Barbados, but a plethora of groups are in the race in Grenada, including the National Unity Front of breakaway NNP members and nearly a dozen fringe parties of all stripes and descriptions. The U.S., under President Ronald Reagan, invaded the tiny island back in 1983.

Regardless, once the voting is over, it could be two new prime ministers heading to Haiti for the mid-year regional summit or the same incumbents, having won the trust of their respective electorates.