PARTY POLITICS IN GRENADA: 2018 ELECTIONS AND BEYOND

Written by on March 17, 2018

PART I

Personal Reflections

Dr. Wendy Grenade

As I entered the Marian Multi-purpose Centre to cast my vote on March 13, 2018, I reflected on the twists, turns, highs and lows of Grenadian politics. I observed the elderly with walkers and wheelchairs. Thirty-nine years ago, on March 13, 1979, most of them were labourers, domestic workers and store clerks. As was the case in most Caribbean countries in the pre-independence era, political mobilisation for electoral competition was influenced by sharp class divides. In Grenada, the majority working classes were loyal to the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) led by Eric Gairy while the business elites and the remnants of the planter class supported the conservative Grenada National Party (GNP) led by Herbert Blaize. In the 1970s, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop, the New Jewel Movement (NJM) emerged as an ideological alternative to the two main political parties. Marian was a Gairyite stronghold and the overthrow of Gairy created fear and uncertainty for the working masses even as many of their children celebrated the dawn of the Grenada Revolution with hope and expectancy. That was almost forty years ago.

Given the passage of time and demographic shifts, as is the case with other communities in Grenada, Marian has changed.  The grandchildren of plantation workers have now entered professional classes and are lawyers, teachers, public officers etc. (the two police officers on duty at the polling station were home-grown Marianers). Others in line were small business owners, female entrepreneurs, tradesmen and youth, (particularly young men) who are still struggling to find their way – hoping for a breakthrough, taking comfort in an occasional ‘spliff’ as they welcome ‘two days’’ work in a de-bushing programme or on a construction site. (I will return to this point in a future article when I will address the education system and the need for a holistic transformational youth strategy).

As this socially diverse group waited in line to cast our vote, I realised that politics in Grenada had come full circle. Unlike the pre-independence era, the two major political parties, the New National Party (NNP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) had no fundamental ideological differences between them and both parties were able to mobilise political support across the social divide. By early evening we learnt that the NNP, led by Dr. Keith Mitchell, had again won all fifteen parliamentary seats. Based on preliminary results, the NNP amassed 33,786 votes. The main opposition NDC, under the leadership of V. Nazim Burke, received 23,243 votes. However, given the distortions of the first-past-the-post system the NDC was unable to gain any parliamentary seat (I will return to this point in a later article).

The NNP must be given credit for such a decisive victory. The NDC must also be commended for putting up a good fight and the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique should be congratulated for peacefully exercising their right to vote. The question is, why did the NNP win a landslide victory three times? In 1999 and on two consecutive occasions in 2013 and 2018? In subsequent articles I will reflect on the 2018 general elections and offer insight into possible explanations. What does all this mean for governance and democracy and party politics beyond 2018?

PART II

First-past-the-post and Electoral Competition

There is an emerging narrative within and outside of Grenada (particularly on social media) which seems to suggest that Grenadians intentionally voted to engineer an electoral outcome that guaranteed the absence of a parliamentary opposition. As a Grenadian and a political scientist I reject that view. As is the case with every Commonwealth Caribbean country, except Guyana, Grenada’s electoral system is based on the first-past-the-post principle. This means that the candidate who amasses the most votes in each constituency wins the seat and the losing party or parties, has/have no representation at all.

It is clear that there are inherent distortions in this system which can lead to unjust electoral outcomes. A major point of contention is that a political party can win the popular vote but lose the elections overall, as was the case in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1998. Another distortion of the first-past-the-post system is that in some instances votes do not always translate proportionally to seats. For example, in the 1984 general elections in Grenada, the Herbert Blaize-led New National Party (NNP) gained just under sixty percent of the votes cast and won 14 seats, while Eric Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) was able to garner over 35  percent of the votes, winning only one parliamentary seat. In 2008, the Tillman Thomas led National Democratic Congress (NDC) obtained just about fifty percent of the votes cast and won eleven seats while the NNP received around forty-seven percent, capturing four seats. In 2013 and 2018 respectively, the NNP received less than sixty percent of the total votes cast, winning all 15 seats, while the NDC obtained approximately forty percent without gaining any parliamentary seats. This means in essence that approximately 22,377 and 23,250 citizens who voted for the NDC in 2013 and 2018 respectively had and continue to have no representation in the House of Representatives. If Grenada had a system of proportional representation, on both occasions the results may have been closer to 9-6 as opposed to 15-0.

There are instances, however, when the first-past-the-post system results in greater proportionality. For example, in the 2003 general elections, the NNP gained 46.6 percent of the votes cast and won eight seats, while the NDC received 44.10 percent with seven seats. On that occasion, seats obtained by the major political parties were proportional to votes cast.

What accounted for the 2003 outcome? The NDC had enhanced its appeal to the electorate by injecting new blood into its leadership. At the same time, the ruling NNP started to lose support among several sectors of the society, which culminated in its eventual defeat in 2008. However, the reality is, until there is electoral reform, political parties have to engage in electoral competition fully cognisant of the fact that from time to time votes and seats may be disproportionate.

What does all this mean? The winner-takes-all electoral system intensifies political competition. This provides an incentive for ruling parties to maximise the benefits of incumbency to hold on to power. At the same time, the fierce competition puts pressure on opposition parties to simultaneously: consolidate and expand their bases (often without access to resources); raise finances to support political campaigns (often in the absence of campaign finance legislation and excessive spending by incumbents); and present themselves to the electorate as an alternative government in waiting, hoping that the ruling party loses popularity.

In the absence of glaring ideological differences, in order for political parties in the Caribbean to enjoy electoral success they must be able to gain the confidence of the majority of the electorate and mobilise broad-based support across class, gender, generational and other divides. Clearly, in the Grenada case, the NNP has been relatively successful at mobilising majority support across a wide spectrum of the Grenadian society: the business class; working masses; the elderly; employed and unemployed youth; Christians and atheists, as well as sections of the middle and intellectual classes. This is one of the pivotal reasons why the NNP has emerged as a dominant political party.

Political leadership is absolutely critical. In the context of fierce electoral competition, the political leader must have national appeal, political presence and astute political skill. There must be no doubt that s/he has legitimacy within and outside the political party and commands the reins of the party. Even his detractors must accept that Dr. Keith Mitchell is a master craftsman politically. This is another reason why, under his leadership, the NNP has won by a landslide on three occasions. On the other hand, the dilemma for the NDC is that after almost every major defeat the political leader by conventional practice steps down. This means that a new leader has to regroup and the party has to find its political equilibrium all over again. The fact is, since its inception in 1987, the NDC has contested seven general elections under the leadership of five political leaders. On the contrary, since gaining the reins of the NNP in 1989, Dr. Mitchell became the founder-leader of that party which he has since maintained.

However, the NNP should be mindful that the 15-0 outcome is not an indication of total national support and its apparent political invincibility does not reflect the true reality. It must be noted that the NNP won all 15 seats but with less than 60 percent electoral support. Based on the preliminary estimated 73.6 percent voter turnout (leaving allowances for the fact that the voters’ list needs to be cleaned) there appears to be substantial discontent among the electorate as an estimated 19,000 of the registered voters did not have confidence in either the NNP or NDC and so did not vote.

In the interest of democracy, there is urgency to reform the electoral system to ensure fairer outcomes. In the meantime, the NNP-led government must govern in the interest of all. NNP supporters on the ground must know that Grenada belongs to all Grenadians, including the approximately 23,243 citizens who voted for the NDC and the over 19,000 who refused to vote for either party.

I suggest that a credible Democratic Watchdog be established in Grenada to keep the ruling party in check.  People’s Parliaments should be introduced throughout the tri-island state where issues of national concern are debated. Beyond strengthening the Social Compact that currently exists, there is need for meaningful and sustained citizen engagement. Grenadians need to be active participants in their own governance. During the period of the People’s Revolutionary Government Zonal and Parish Councils were established to foster participatory democracy. Let’s revisit those models of community governance and refashion them for the current moment.  As we approach 50 years as a sovereign state, Grenadians have another opportunity to show the world that we can fulfill the promise of independence to “aspire, build and advance as one people.”

Dr. Wendy C. Grenade is a Grenadian and a Senior Lecturer in Political Science, Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados


Reader's opinions
    • Zafar suraleigh   On   March 27, 2018 at 8:47 pm

      It doesn’t matter who sins, we are not going any way. The party system is the problem.
      It’s is perfect for upright people; but unfortunately we no longer have that category of people. It is also perfect for crooks which we now have in abundance. Dismantle the party system have parish representative running the parliament. The people should chose their MP — not the representatives

  1. Judy Lewis-Joseph   On   March 17, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Well researched,written and thought provoking article which every Grenadians should read and critically analyze so as to educate ourselves on voting which is one of our fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution.

  2. Rita Joseph   On   March 18, 2018 at 1:58 am

    Thank you Dr. Grenade for bringing this topical issue to the table. Hope this is a start to the transformational process that has evidently come to our attention.
    There is too much room for manipulation of the existing electoral system for fair and free representation to take place.
    Please get the ball rolling to take Grenada through the process of meaningfully addressing this burning issue of political reform.
    My prayer is that it begins now.

  3. Christopher Parke   On   March 18, 2018 at 6:58 am

    A very-well put together and unbiased analysis of the Grenada 2018 general elections and realistic and objective reasons for political reform.

  4. Kallan Simon   On   March 18, 2018 at 7:20 am

    Very well put together and the last paragraph should be taken for public debate. I fully subscribe to the notion of democratic watchdog and the need for people’s parliament with a shadow cabinet.

  5. Jay Mitchell   On   March 18, 2018 at 9:51 am

    We look to leadership that is self-respecting and considerate of the dignity required in representing people of all persuasions.

  6. Denny A. Pierre   On   March 18, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    That’s an excellent article by Dr. Wendy C. Grenade. Dr. Keith Mitchell is indeed a master craftsman of politics in Grenada. His strength lies in the fact that he knows how to design a broad-based policy agenda for the people, unlike the NDC. For example, a national health policy and an unemployment policy to benefit all Grenadians, including many other social and economic policies designed for the long-term benefits of all Grenadians.

    The NDC, as they regroup, it will be a good thing if they can come up with some broad-based social and economic plans for the country in the next election. Politicians in Grenada need to plan for the entire country rather than just for a few people.

    I’m glad that Dr. Grenade has presented a balanced argument in her article – NNP supporters must know that Grenada belongs to all Grenadians, including those citizens who voted for the NDC, as well as those who did not vote at all.

    It’s my hope that we move Grenada forward socially and economically in unity.

    Thank you for this excellent article, Dr. Grenade. I’m awaiting your views on the areas that you are yet to address.

  7. Julia   On   March 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    I really appreciate your comments and before I read your credentials at the end I knew you have knowledge in political science.

    Electoral Reform is absolutely necessary for our country. Nothing is wrong with one party winning all the seats since it’s voters choice to choose but having opponents in parliament is absolutely necessary.

    I hate the fact that we have bring ourselves to color identity and as if it’s wrong to oppose either party views. If something is good for our nation it’s good , if it is bad it’s bad. If something is good don’t say it’s bad because our preferred choice is not the ruling government and vice versa. I wish to see us come out of this era and let us build this nation together. Stop all this bitterness on social media.

    May we be ever conscious of God as we build and advance as one people.

    I love my Grenada 🇬🇩. The best place to live and bring up our children.

  8. Shireen   On   March 18, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Superb article! Very impartial…a critical yet rationale point of view of politics in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. I’m intrigued and I eagerly await the release of your other articles.

  9. Wendy Grenade   On   March 18, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks to all of you for your kind words and encouragement. I am humbled and inspired to continue trying to make sense of our complex politics.

  10. Brenda Baptiste   On   March 19, 2018 at 11:28 am

    THANK YOU!!! honest! analytical! FACT based! One for our times. As a progressive Grenadian woman, I look to you my former Anglican High School – Head Prefect to e part of the vanguard movement for elevation, of this and many other matters in our homeland. BLESS!

  11. Steve Alexander   On   March 19, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Dear Dr. Grenade thank you for your analysis and the infusion for political alternatives for WE the people to ponder. I am with the hope that the concept of village councils, etc. would take root as the pending enactment of local government for Carriacou and Petite Martinique has been put on the back burner for 44 years and counting.

  12. Martin Felix   On   March 19, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    “How empty is theory in the presence of fact!” – Mark Twain
    Very essential historical perspective. We have heard and read enough of the emotional responses to the 3/13/18 Grenada elections from both camps. Your well-reasoned, sober analysis is an important contribution. Of particular importance, I believe, is your idea of us revisiting some semblance of the organs of popular democracy of the revolution era. This can be an essential vehicle of democracy in challenging a growing NNP hegemony and the reality of a deadbeat formal opposition party.

  13. Goslyn Mekquit   On   March 20, 2018 at 8:33 am

    The election result is a polarization of the thought process among the electorate given that NDC cannot present a Viable alternative due to poor leadership. The lack of a opposition is bad for the Country given the vindictive nature of some NNP policies – as a 73 year old former teacher from Grenville I see Gairyism poking its ugly head – see the harassment and virtual shutdown of George Grant show at critical times prior to the election – it’s not all political science there are heavy undercurrents at play and I fear that the National Debt will Continue to strangle the Country while government continue legal moves to strangle opponents – theres fear in the Country.

  14. ROY WELLS   On   March 20, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Great article with NDC getting 23,000 votes and 19,000 not voting .The NNP getting 33,000 votes is a minority goverment.

  15. Jeanette Du Bois   On   March 26, 2018 at 12:06 am

    Grenada is in dire need of constitutional reform to address the anomalies that surface from time to time. Proportional representation will definitely address the issue of imbalance in Parliament. I am wondering whether every one of the almost 20000 registered voters who did not vote resides I Grenada.

  16. D. M. Hazzard   On   March 28, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    looking forward to your discussion on the points you raised for discussion. Brilliant article as usual.

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