A New Caribbean Politics

THE close result of the just concluded election in Jamaica has engendered a new debate on the nature of contemporary Anglophone Caribbean politics. Five and a half decades after the first countries gained independence, we may be witnessing a transition to a new political framework. While the Jamaican result gained a lot of attention, it is not singular. We now have in the Region three governments with one-seat majorities—Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica. A look at the popular votes in the six elections over the last year shows none of the victorious parties garnering more that 53% of the popular votes– St Vincent and the Grenadines 52.28%-47.72; Belize 50.52%-49.48; Guyana 50.30%-49.70%; St. Kitts-Nevis 50.8%-49.2 (in favour of the Opposition); Trinidad and Tobago 51.68% 48.32%; Jamaica 50.13%-49.87%..
This is unprecedented. It points to evenly divided electorates, a development that can be interpreted in at least two ways. First, it is a reflection of entrenched political tribalism which has always been part of the political culture. Second, it could mean that none of the competing parties is able to attract new or cross-over support. Their inability to attract new voter support may be linked to the low voter turn-out, which in the last two Jamaican elections stood at 53% and 47% respectively. A third reading of these close results may be that citizens are signalling to the parties a desire for consensus politics rather than the old politics of competition and confrontation.
A second observation about the Jamaican situation is the fact that the last two governments there have been one-term governments. The last JLP government under Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness was booted out of office after a single term and now the Portia Simpson-Miller government that replaced it has suffered the same fate. Again this is not confined to Jamaica. During the last decade, we have seen one-term governments in St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Grenada. Those which survived the one-term syndrome such as the UPP in Antigua and Barbuda and the DLP in Barbados did so by winning second terms with very slim majorities
Some have opined that this development points to the fact that voters do not see much difference between the parties as far as quality of governance is concerned. Hence, to constant flipping from one to the other. What is also clear is that there are less ideological differences between the parties these days. This means that one does not present any clear alternative to the other. So it is just a matter of voting against the other party rather than voting for the one of your choice.
Are these regular change of governments and close results a recipe for instability? In a sense they are. Governments with slim majorities are often not allowed the scope to effectively govern by the opposition, which feels its strength is equal to that of the governing parties. Further, governments which serve one term hardly ever has time to implement policies; by the time they are settled, it’s time to go back to the polls. In a region where there is very little continuity by new governments, these frequent change of governments could be counter-productive as far as economic and other policies are concerned.
Ultimately, the Region has to come to grips with these new realities of our political landscape. Governments have to find new ways to accommodate the opposition when the results are close and the opposition parties have to adopt less confrontational stances. Here in Guyana, we have talked for decades about power-sharing without ever moving in that direction in any purposeful manner. Now more than ever that form of government needs to be explored across the Region.

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