Politics - after the Carnival

Guyana Chronicle
March 7, 2000

TOMORROW when Trinidadians come out to `play mas' for the final two days of Carnival 2000, voters of St. Kitts and Nevis will be going to the polls to elect a new government. And Guyanese and Jamaicans will, respectively, observe the third anniversary of the death of two of the Caribbean's outstanding political leaders - Cheddi Jagan and Michael Manley.

The late President Jagan and ex-Prime Minister Manley died within hours of each other on March 6, 1997, and plunged the Caribbean in a mood of mourning with the region witnessing two of the biggest ever funerals.

Remembering Cheddi Jagan has become a major event in the calender of political activities of the governing People's Progressive Party he founded half a century ago. And the death anniversary follows within two weeks of Guyana's version of Trinidad and Tobago's carnival - Mashramani, which seems to be getting bigger and better after the political interruptions that followed the 1997 general elections.

In Trinidad and Tobago, when the "greatest show on earth" - according to merry-making Trinidadians - is over, there is expectation that the political bacchanal involving President ANR Robinson and Prime Minister Basdeo Panday will resurface to keep the nation in a state of political tension with new general elections just some months away.

Hopefully, this will not be the case and both Robinson and Panday will find a way to resume normal relations in the national interest.

Wishful thinking?

Perhaps. But it is better to hope than despair.

Now that Robinson has finally signed the instrument Panday has been anxiously waiting for to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the country's justice administration system, there remains the speculation about the nature of his suggested amendment to the terms of reference for the Inquiry in his letter to the Prime Minister.

Some very informed Trinidadians, who have served the country in varying capacities, feel that it cannot be beyond the capacity of Robinson and Panday to meet, without any assistant or adviser, to candidly work out their differences - if they really care to - even after their outrageous outbursts about who is a "liar" or an "enemy".

For the head of state and head of government of any democratic state to sustain mistrust when there is already the burden of mistrust between the Chief Justice and Attorney General, suggests that the society may be in much more trouble than it cares to admit and will not disappear with the passing of another carnival - unless, serious, honest efforts are made for a resolution by those involved.

As the carnival revellers recover for Ash Wednesday, the region's political directorate will be travelling to Guadeloupe for a meeting with the President of France, Jacques Chirac. It promises to be a unique event, the first such meeting on Caribbean soil between a French President and Caribbean heads of state and government.

The issues for discussion will include the expressed desire of the new Prime Minister of Dominica, Rosie Douglas, for associate member status for his country in the European Union, similar to France's overseas departments, and the more wide-ranging matters of trade and economic assistance in the context of the new relationship being forged between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations.

From Guadeloupe, the Caribbean leaders will move on to St. Kitts and Nevis for the 11th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Among them will be Haiti's President Rene Preval, under heavy pressure at this time to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for the conduct of free and fair parliamentary and local government elections scheduled for March 19, but which could still be postponed.

As is currently being discussed in Guyana, Haitians are questioning the value of rushing to hold scheduled elections if there remains serious doubts about the capacity of the Provisional Electoral Council (Elections Commission) to deliver the required voter ID cards and have all necessary arrangements in place for free and fair poll since failure to do so could prove disastrous for the country.

The coming elections in Haiti and the political situation in Guyana which is preparing for new elections in January 2001, are among items on the agenda for the CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting in St. Kitts.

Caribbean Court

An issue of much interest also for the meeting is the progress in arrangements for the establishment of a Caribbean Court of Appeal which is intended to be operational by January 2001 with Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago as initial members.

Following the Jamaican Prime Minister's decision last week to postpone debate on a motion authorising Jamaica's participation in the CCJ as the region's final appellate institution, doubts have emerged about the signing of the required treaty for the court even by July when the regular annual CARICOM Summit takes place, this time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Despite the optimism of some of the region's Attorneys General, for example Barbados's David Simmons, chairman of the special Preparatory Committee for the inauguration of the CCJ, about the court coming on stream as envisaged, others continue to harbour reservations about the target date of January 2001.

Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, the designated host for the CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting in Basseterre, is confident that his incumbent St. Kitts Labour Party will be returned to power for a second term.

But former Prime Minister and leader of the People's Action Movement (PAM), Kennedy Simmonds, has been boasting that his party "has at least five safe seats in the bag and could possibly end up with seven".

Laughing off such a possibility, Douglas, whose party in July 1995 ended three consecutive terms of PAM government by winning seven of the eight St. Kitts constituencies, said: "There are too many holes in PAM's bag to hold even three seats. Labour will win again..."

While Labour is widely expected to retain power, there were two surprising developments last week - Douglas's pulling out of a scheduled broadcast debate with Simmonds on Friday and the earlier public threat of a woman to take legal action against the Prime Minister for allegedly physically assaulting her. Douglas has strongly denied the allegation.