by Earl Bousquet

My Constitution Park programme on Radio St. Lucia last week turned out to be an unofficial poll of sorts. My guest for that day had cancelled that morning and I decided at the last minute to open up the lines and let the callers have the day. I asked the question: “When Do You Think The Prime Minister Should Call The General Elections and Why?”

 I never anticipated the response. In 90 minutes, I got 105 calls from all over St. Lucia. People called from Castries, Vieux Fort, Grand Riviere, Mon Repos, Praslin, Laborie, La Croix, Corinth, Deglos, Choiseul, Escap, Micoud, Monchy, Marisule,, Soufriere, Vigie, Desruisseaux, Anse La Raye, Castries East, Castries North, Morne Du Don, Cap Estate, Bexon, Anse Ger, Pavee, Marigot, Dennery, Babonneau, Bonne Terre, Vieux Sikwi, Marchand, Aux Lyons, Canaries, Odlum City, Micoud, Ti Colon, La Clery, The Morne, Hospital Road and Goodlands.

Someone even called from somewhere called “Parts Unknown.”  And another called from “Assou L’Anse”(which, to many people, still means “the Choc cemetery”). There were also calls from St. Lucians in Martinique and Barbados. (And I subsequently heard from another in Guadeloupe, who said he listens every week and was trying to call the programme, but without success.)

            Like I said, I simply wanted to feel the pulse of my listeners on the subject. But if the number of areas from which people called is enough of a measurement, then it can also be seen as a sort of sample of public opinion, even though unscientific and in no way intended for official use or reference.

A statistical analysis of an arithmetical compilation of what the 105 callers said revealed that 41 were of the view that the Prime Minister should call the elections now, while 35 felt the Government should serve its entire five-year term. Another 18 callers said the Prime Minister should call the elections in December, while 11 said he should exercise his constitutional prerogative and call the poll when he considers it appropriate.

            The statisticians can tell many stories out of these figures. One is that more than half of those who called from around the island – 59 callers -- wanted the elections to be called between now and December 12 -- some publicly confessing they want to go to the polls on December 12 so that there could be “a double-holiday celebration” for the winning party on the next day.

            Another fact from the figures is that exactly one third or 33% of the callers – 35 to be exact – were of the view that the Government should serve its entire five-year term.

            Just as many questions can arise as well from what the callers said. For example:

None of these questions crossed my mind before the programme, because, like everyone else, I too don’t know when the election will be called. Like every other Prime Minister, this one is playing the election date close to his chest. In fact, the Prime Minister didn’t hear the programme, being away in St. Vincent at the time seeking to stave off an impending cut in prices paid to banana farmers. What was said onb the programme, therefore, did not figure in his consideration of the date.

As it turned out, the Prime Minister announced a few days later that the elections will be held this year, “before December 31, 2001.” This has prompted much speculation as to when it will be. Most people seem to have ruled out a November date and have been predicting several December dates. Those fixed on the UWP tradition of calling general elections on a Monday have isolated each Monday in December. Others have gone closer to the two holidays, suggesting possibly December 12 or December 24. Some have also concentrated on the first half of the month, suggesting the Prime Minister may want to stay as far away from Christmas as possible.

The speculation also mounted as to when the Prime Minister will actually reveal the actual date of the election. He offered a hint by confirming at Gros Islet – and subsequently in the House of Assembly – that the poll will be called this year. Immediately, some reporters speculated that Tuesday’s sitting of the house would have seen parliament dissolved and the date announced. At least two media houses reported this speculation as fact, but that was not to be. It turned out to be a marathon session, during which a tidy bit of legislation was attended to, ending with the certainty that there will be time for at least one more monthly sitting of parliament before the elections are called.

The partial announcement of the election date was not unexpected, but the two opposition camps have responded with public declarations of readiness that just don’t mesh with their state of organisation on the ground or their appearance as alternatives to the current administration. However, while the exact date hasn’t been given, the hint is big enough and time is short enough to ensure the UWP an d the Alliance shift into top gear if they want to be part of the contest.

The partial announcement has also had the effect of forcing the undeclared candidates to make their minds up – or have it made up for them – as to where they will run. Former Prime Minister Sir John Compton, who has been playing hide-and-seek regarding whether he will run or where, has now publicly declared he is willing to run “if asked” – meaning, he will contest.

In response, Leila Harracksingh, who is interested in running in Micoud South for the Alliance, is crying foul. Reading Sir John’s smoke-signals, she said she was keeping an eye on him because he brought her into politics in Micoud South on the basis of his decision to retire. He also brought her into the Alliance. Now it seems she may have to face-off with him.

The pressure is also on George Odlum, who has been keeping quiet on where he will run. He has reportedly had his eyes on Castries North, Choiseul, Castries Central and even Soufriere – the latter, ostensibly because of the historical pattern of voters there changing MPs every election. It’s only a matter of time before he has to make his mind up.

            But in the meantime, the country speeds towards a general election that is already showing signs that it will be like no other.

November 6, 2001