After St Lucia, where next?
-- The `crime stupidí factor and Anthony's reply to Compton
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
December 17, 2006

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IN ST LUCIA last week, the post-election message of the surprising victorious United Workers Party (UWP) was an encouraging "forward to crime control and economic recovery", while that of the losing St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) was a robust "defeated, not humiliated".

"Crime control" may be on the agenda of political strategists helping to shape plans for scheduled elections next year in Jamaica and at least three other CARICOM states.

But it is a promise that could come to haunt the UWP of 81-year-old Prime Minister Sir John Compton with the early warning given by the SLP's 55-year-old leader and former Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, to go on the offensive against "distortions of our achievements and the falsehood of corruption allegations and not dealing with the crime problem..."?

It would be difficult to ignore the achievements of Anthony's administration, particularly in its second term, to attract local and foreign investment -- some EC$1 billon -- real economic growth at three to five per cent and a projected six per cent this year, plus a significant dent on traditionally high unemployment. Some argue that benefits from economic growth have not been trickling down to those more in need.

However, to adapt a popular slogan associated with President Bill Clinton's second term victory to that of last Monday's election results in St Lucia, it was "the crime stupid" (not the economy).

This is a dilemma that could also be faced, in varying degrees, by four CARICOM states where national elections are expected in?2007 -- Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas and Barbados -- all of which are confronted with worrying levels of murder and other serious crime.

Jamaica, where the incumbent People's National Party (PNP) would be seeking an unprecedented fifth term, has already passed the dread 1,000 murder toll, with Trinidad and Tobago -- floating in the wealth of its oil and natural gas resources -- is in an unenviable second place with?51 by last week and counting. Once tranquil Barbados has already recorded 35 compared to 27 this time last year.?

Guyana, which held its general eelction in August this year and returned the PPP/Civic to power for a fourth term, continues to be deeply affected also by the crime nightmare of murders -- 147 by last Friday (31 more than in 2005) -- and daring, vicious armed robberies that had totalled 894 for the year compared to 712 for the same period in 2005.

Editorial writers and social commentators across the region, including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, have been drawing governing parties?attention to the relevance of St Lucia's election shock results message that sharply contrasts with the predictions of pollsters, and, also, the impact that the incidences of serious crime situation could have on their hopes for return to power in 2007.?

In his bold bid for another stint of state power, Compton emerged last year from his self-imposed "sunset politics" with trenchant criticisms against Anthony's SLP, including failure to control the "crime horrors", as well as claimed poor economic management.

He was also on the offensive against sources of campaign financing, such as reported assistance provided his UWP from Taiwan via its embassy in St Kitts -- a claim strongly denied

There was also Compton's bitter complaints against "interference" in St Lucia's election by heads of government of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), such as Prime Ministers Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica, both having been SLP platform speakers during the campaign.?

Truth is, elections campaign financing remains an old issue in regional politics involving a number of governing and opposition parties. It is now becoming an increasing challenge to be faced, as Jamaica, for one, is preparing to do ahead of campaign 2007.

If it were amusing to find the UWP on the defensive on campaign financing sources -- an issue that should provide much political sparks at Jamaica's coming poll, then on the matter of "interference" in the St Lucia election campaign, Compton should have been advised against going down that route.

He can hardly forget the history of recurring interferences in the domestic politics of fellow OECS states by the now defunct United States-influenced Caribbean Democratic Union (CDU), a grouping of like-minded conservative parties that had routinely involved themselves in election politics in that sub-region.

The CDU was an off-shoot of the 1983 U.S.-led military invasion of Grenada and included Compton's UWP, the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party; Dominica Freedom Party of the now late Dame Eugenia Charles; and the New Democratic Party under Sir James Mitchell's leadership.

Objectively, therefore, while the UWP leader, has good reason to joyfully give the proverbial kick-in-the-groin to pollsters' forecasts of a third-term victory to Anthony's SLP, the arithmetic of Monday's election results would also give some credence to the incumbent's claim of defeated yes, but not humiliated.

After all, with an increased 16,000 voters on the electoral register of?135,000, the overall voter response on Monday was just some three per cent more than that of the 2001 general election and with no more than a 2,000 plurality of valid votes separating victor (UWP) and loser (SLP), or by just over two per cent.?

At least three of the UWP's 11 seats were secured by less than a combined 200 votes, primarily in known middle-class constituencies. For instance, tourists-attracted Gros Islet, where reactions against armed robberies and gun-related murders were particularly pronounced against the SLP.

So, did the SLP administration really fold its arms in the face of a growing rampage by criminals -- as Compton's UWP seems to have successfully claimed in mobilising his base support, while, in contrast, a significant percentage of SLP traditional supporters apparently bought into pollsters' forecasts and did not turn out to vote?

An independent inquiry into the SLP government's response to the crime situation that, as of last week included 34 murders (last year it was 40), has revealed its quite various pro-active initiatives.

Recruitment earlier this year of seven British cops to bolster the anti-crime battle by the local police force seems a bit too late. But it had followed expansion of the force with a 450 increase in manpower as well as increased mobility.

There was also the construction of new police stations; a new modern prison; recovery of approximately 420 illegal guns and the enactment of a series of new legislative measures: these included a new criminal code; new evidence and firearms acts as well as a new forensic laboratory.

From a regional perspective, with last week's very surprising change of government in St Lucia, has come the inevitable question: where next for a change in government -- Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados or The Bahamas? ?

The quality of governance, fiscal and economic management and responses to the crime situation are expected to feature, with varying emphases, in all four of those coming elections.?

Since the 2000 general election in Dominica, only two governments of independent CARICOM countries have been replaced -- the long-serving Antigua Labour Party in 2004 by Baldwin Spencer's United Progressive Party and, as of last week, Anthony's SLP.