Leaders from more than 50 former British colonies in the past week voted to give the Commonwealth grouping of nations its first female secretary general, but the battle to elect the nominee from the Caribbean has left a sour taste in the mouths of some regional governments.
In the lead up to last week’s Commonwealth Summit in Malta, various governments could not agree on a single nominee from the region, as is usually the case, with positions at key international bodies, the disunity possibly resulting in a less-than-ideal candidate getting elected.
Up to the very last minute, the Caribbean Community had been fielding two candidates, Guyana-born, Antigua-based Sir Ronald Sanders and Baroness Patricia Scotland, born in tiny Dominica, a British citizen for decades and a former Labor cabinet minister. A third candidate from Trinidad was withdrawn after his government lost general elections in September.
For many in the region, Scotland, who easily defeated Sanders on the strength of votes from Europe, Africa, Australia and the Pacific islands, has questionable Caribbean credentials, having left the region with her parents at age 2 in 1957. As far as they were concerned, she was hardly from the Caribbean anymore, having been raised in England, and is widely considered having English peerage, being more concerned with English and European interests. She had the unflinching backing of her native Dominica despite calls from heads of governments for the island nation to throw its vote behind the authentic Caribbean candidate, Sanders.
Sanders has spent most of his life in the region, working initially as a top broadcaster in Guyana and later representing Antigua as its ambassador to London.
Analyzing his resounding defeat on the weekend, Foreign Minister Charles Fernandez blamed the protracted and public display of Caribbean disunity for the situation, saying that after his poor showing in the first round, Antigua had no choice but to back Scotland to ensure someone from the Caribbean occupied the seat.
“We went up against Africa on one hand, and the other, the bloc of the Europeans. As you know, Baroness Scotland is a member of the English Parliament. They openly lobbied very heavily for her. Also the Australians lobbied openly with the Pacific countries. So, in effect, we were marginalized, to say the least, and had a very, very tough time going forward.”
He said Antigua and those supporting Sanders “were blindsided” by Europe, leaving him with little chance of being elected.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne said, “We withdrew Sir Ron after the first round of voting and threw our support behind Scotland as the compromise candidate.”
With the election a done deal, the region has no choice but to live with the baroness, who has pledged to push for gay and lesbian issues in her first two years and for decriminalization of homosexuality in the Commonwealth
“I am incredibly proud to be the first woman to be Commonwealth secretary general. I want to put the women’s agenda firmly on the table and work with leaders, governments, local governments and other partners. I invite every Commonwealth citizen to join in making these aspirations a reality,” she said after her election.