By Wendy C Grenade
Recent political developments in Grenada confirm that the outcome of the 2008 general elections represents an unsettled ‘settling’ to the two-party system. After the electoral victory of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in July 2008, many Grenadians expected political healing, reconciliation and a break from the past. Many observers welcomed the ‘wind of change’ that was seemingly blowing through the Caribbean and hoped for a new kind of politics that transcended decades of authoritarianism, corruption, conflict, political immaturity and power mongering. Four years on, there is no doubt that the current political climate is reminiscent of the past. Grenada has again become a theatre for political intrigue. For those of us who study politics, the Grenada case presents rich fodder for political analysis. However, I am of the view that given Grenada’s turbulent political history, Grenadians have no appetite for political wrangling and instability, particularly when the rate of unemployment is estimated to be well over 30 percent and ordinary Grenadians continue to struggle daily just to make ends meet.
History continues to be in the present. As was the case in 1983 and 1989, evidence suggests that the Prime Minister of Grenada has again lost control of the high command of the ruling party. In the upcoming weeks, Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has to confront two serious challenges. The first is the proposed No Confidence motion which has been filed by the opposition New National Party (NNP). If he survives the No Confidence motion, Prime Minister Thomas will then have to strategically navigate forces within his own party at the NDC convention, which is scheduled for July this year. If we use history as a guide, it seems that the political future of Prime Minister Thomas and the various factions of the ruling NDC hang in the balance. I wish to examine possible scenarios:
• Continued Patchwork Politics - The factions in the NDC leadership can attempt to mend the rift and complete their mandate until general elections are constitutionally due next year. After all, hard core politics often revolve around conflict and marriages of convenience. When there is infighting within political parties, members of various factions often develop the art of skilful pretence, hold their noses and manage conflict to preserve personal and political gains. This is quite normal in most political parties. However, given the political battle that is raging within the NDC leadership, this option may not be feasible. If the NDC in its current configuration is to be mended, this will require serious mediation and the rebuilding of trust on all sides. In my view, too much damage has been done. In the interest of Grenada, it may be best for the factions in the party to go their separate ways now. The question then arises, who will have the legitimate claim to ownership of the NDC party? Other questions emerge. In a parliamentary democracy, is it principled, or even desirable, for the Prime Minister to continue to lead a parliamentary group when it is alleged that several of his MPs no longer have confidence in him? On the other hand, is it principled, or even desirable, for some former members of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) who were accepted into the NDC party (despite strong reservations by some members of the NDC leadership) to seek to wrest power from the political leader, cognisant of Grenada’s troubled political history? In my view, when principles clash, it is time for the people to decide the way forward through fresh elections. Patchwork politics must no longer be an option.
• No Confidence Motion - The NDC MPs who have difficulty with Prime Minister Thomas’ leadership style and his ineffectiveness in government can decide to support the No Confidence motion filed by the opposition NNP. It is their right so to do. If the No Confidence motion is successful, the Prime Minister has two options: (a) he can ask another individual who he believes will command the confidence of parliament to form the government or (b) he can dissolve the parliament and call new elections. There is precedence in the Caribbean where a No Confidence motion against a prime minister was supported by MPs from his ruling party. In 1994 dissident MPs in the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in Barbados decided to support a No Confidence motion against then Prime Minister Lloyd Erskine Sandiford. The prime minister decided to seek a fresh mandate from the people and the DLP suffered electoral defeat in the 1994 general elections and remained in the political wilderness from 1994 to 2008! If members of the NDC parliamentary group choose to support the No Confidence motion filed by the Opposition, they may just face a similar fate. The electorate in the Caribbean does not reward what it perceives to be disloyalty. Several questions are pertinent here. If MPs who were elected on an NDC ticket, give support to the NNP in the No Confidence motion against the Prime Minister, what will be the trade off? How will they gain? Does a No Confidence motion against Tillman Thomas automatically translate to victory at the polls for the dissident faction of the NDC? Evidence suggests that the NNP does not need the support of NDC MPs to win a general election. Will they want history to record the fact that they brought down a government that they once pledged to work with and support to build a new Grenada? Will the base of the NDC party and other Grenadians who voted to get rid of Mitchell in 2008 reward them for this act of political recklessness? The reality is, a divided NDC will split the vote and increase the chances of electoral victory for the NNP. It may be in the interest of the dissident NDC MPs to wait for the NDC convention where they can seek to further consolidate their power in the party prior to general elections. Support for the No Confidence motion will not benefit them politically. In fact, they may commit political suicide if they so do.
• The Scramble at the NDC Convention - If the Prime Minister survives the No Confidence motion and there is a successful bid to unseat him as political leader in the NDC convention that is scheduled for July this year, he will officially be Prime Minister of an NDC-led government but not political leader of the NDC party. The late Prime Minister Herbert Blaize faced a similar dilemma in 1989. His response was to form The National Party (TNP), which did not make any inroads in Grenada’s politics. In the 1990 general elections, TNP obtained 17.36% of the popular vote and two parliamentary seats. By 1995 TNP received a mere 6.46% of the popular vote and did not win any parliamentary seats. That party, for the most part, withered into thin air, (although some of its members were absorbed into other political parties). Prime Minister Thomas may well be guided by history. To avoid this scenario, should the Prime Minister pre-empt the outcome of the NDC convention and call a date for general elections prior to the convention? He can use the powers of the Office of Prime Minister and choose this option to avoid further erosion of his power in the party. The question arises, if the NDC convention goes ahead and the political leader and his faction lose further grip of the party, will the Prime Minister be able to govern effectively where there is a clash of powers: the powers of the Prime Minister and the powers of the party leadership? Is this scenario in the best interest of Grenada? I do not think so.
It seems clear that in the interest of Grenada a new mandate is necessary through general elections. However, Grenada may be returning to an unstable multi-party system, which is unhealthy for democracy. It is unfortunate that the NDC did not capitalise on an opportunity to re-build and heal Grenada. It is unfortunate that they did not learn the lessons of the past. It is so unfortunate that the NDC was born in conflict and has not been able to consolidate a well-functioning political party. At this juncture in Grenada’s history, the political system needs cleansing. We need to move beyond patchwork politics and search for meaningful alternatives beyond the NDC and the NNP. As difficult as it might be now for Prime Minister Thomas and the NDC, the best course of action may be to go back to the people for a fresh mandate and let the chips fall where they may. They must know, however, that Grenadians will hold the NDC leadership accountable for reckless politics and political ineptness at a time of gross economic uncertainty.
Dr. Wendy C. Grenade is a Grenadian who lectures in Political Science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.
May 4, 2011.
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