Published 31 January 2020
Buckie Got It. St. Kitts and Nevis News Source
Busy year for elections in Caricom
Bert Wilkinson | 1/30/2020, 3:45 p.m.
Seven key Caribbean Community nations will hold general elections this year and in at least three of them, the economy and racial tensions will be key campaign issues.
Oil and gas-rich Guyana which in mid-January became one of the world’s newest crude oil exporters, will most likely be the first out of the starting blocks as about 500,000 eligible voters head to the polls on March 2.
And neighboring Suriname which also found commercial oil and gas deposits offshore for the first time, will likely be next. Locals there go to the polls in the Dutch-speaking republic on May 25 and it could be a tough fight between the mix race governing National Democratic Party (NDP) of former military strongman, now two term elected Pres. Desi Bouterse, 74. Bouterse was last month sentenced to 20 years in prison for mass murders committed during military rule in 1982 but he has since appealed the sentence and is not barred from seeking a third five year term. His strongest rival appears to come from the Hindustani VHP party of former police chief and justice minister Chan Santokhi.
In Suriname’s neighbor to the west, Guyanese Pres. David Granger, a retired army general, is facing a formidable challenge from the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP). His multi-racial coalition is seeking a second five year term and has promised an unprecedented level of development now that Guyana has become an oil producer and expects billions in annual revenues over the period. Campaigning is underway in earnest.
To the north in Trinidad, the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley is also facing a formidable challenge from the Indo-dominated United National Congress (UNC) of opposition leader and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Race and the economic future of Trinidad with its declining daily oil production are likely to be key campaign issues but Rowley says his People’s National Movement (PNM) is confident of a consecutive term given the level of runaway corruption during previous UNC terms in office. He is confident voters will not forget. Trinidadians last voted in early September of 2015.
The others have to do with similar tight races in Belize and St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent. These latter two are located in the nine-nation Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a sub grouping of the 15-nation Caricom bloc of nations. Leaders in all three have signaled elections for the last quarter of 2020.
In tourism dependent St. Kitts and Nevis, Prime Minister Timothy Harris’ People’s Labor Party (PLP) is staking faith in voters about the government’s record in reducing runaway corruption and money laundering which had plagued the 20-year period under previous prime minister Denzil Douglas. Harris is expected to win a second term as Douglas remains stained with corruption issues. Harris says he deserves a second term.
In nearby St. Vincent and the Grenadines group of sister isles, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves will again try to win a fifth term after ruling the archipelago for the last two terms with a wafer thin one seat majority.
Persistent and credible allegations of massive voter rigging by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) have plagued recent elections in the country but the question is whether voters are tired enough of Gonsalves, 73, and would vote to end his era at the helm of government.
The eight race concerns the Dominican Republic which has not been enjoying close relations with Caricom because of the way it has been treating Black Haitians who cross from neighboring Haiti or were even born in the DR. Recent laws passed by parliament have banned even those native to the DR from obtaining citizenship, an issue which has vexed Caricom and has led to a cooling of relations.