The Caribbean in 2015 was defined by its politics

| December 31, 2015

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Dec 30, CMC – Three governments were booted out of office by the electorate in St Kitts and Nevis, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago during 2015.

But while Dr Denzil Douglas, Donald Ramotar and Kamla Persad Bissessar sat brooding, their counterparts in Anguilla, Belize, Suriname, the British Virgin Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were celebrating victories.

In all, voters in nine Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states went to the polls in 2015, which turned out to be a very challenging year politically for many.

In Haiti, the electoral process is still unfolding following the “indefinite postponement” of the second round of voting in presidential elections that had been scheduled for December 27 to choose a successor to Michel Martelly, who under the French speaking nation’s constitution cannot seek a third consecutive term in office.

The final results are expected in early 2016. But the polls so far have been marred by allegations of voter rigging, as well as violence and death.

The outcome of the first round of balloting on October 25, only became known in mid-December, amid calls for the resignation of members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and threats of a boycott by opposition parties, which were insisting that the polls in Haiti were not free and fair, despite the “clean bill of health” given by the international electoral observers.

As the year drew to a close, Jamaicans were wondering whether they too would be facing the election music. However, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller put an end to any such speculation when she said that the date for the new poll, which is constitutionally due in December 2016, would be announced after the new voters’ list was published on November 30.

The prime minister also said her wish was for Jamaicans to have a peaceful Christmas season, even as she warned the electorate that “the hour is at hand”.

For its part, the main opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) said it was confident of victory, no doubt encouraged by the success of their colleagues in neighbouring CARICOM states that have managed to unseat incumbents.

Among them, Timothy Harris and his opposition coalition which shattered Dr Douglas’ hopes and dreams of becoming the first CARICOM leader to win five consecutive general elections.

When he announced February 16 as the date for choosing a new government in the twin island Federation, the 62-year-old Dr Douglas had plans of using the new voters list and new boundaries. But those plans were dashed by the London-based Privy Council, the highest court for St. Kitts and Nevis, which upheld an appeal filed by opposition legislators.

The Privy Council was asked to rule on whether or not the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal was correct in upholding the discharge of an interim injunction preventing the adoption of new electoral boundaries ahead of the general elections.

In its ruling, the Privy Council noted that both parties had agreed to use for the purposes of the forthcoming general election whatever list the Privy Council may determine as the appropriate list.

“It is determined and ordered that firstly, the list to be used in the said election, is and shall be that existing prior to and apart from the proclamation bearing the reference number two of 2015 purportedly issued and published by the Governor General… bearing the date January 16, 2015,” the Privy Council said.

The opposition coalition, comprising the People’s Action Movement (PAM), the People’s Labour Party (PLP) and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) welcomed the ruling and expressed confidence that voters would put an end to Dr Douglas’ plan to extend his 20 years at the helm of the government.

What transpired after the electorate voted was a situation never before experienced in the Caribbean.

The Supervisor of Elections, Wingrove George, halted the public announcement of the electoral results on the night of the counting and only broke his silence late the following day when he declared Team Unity, the amalgam of three opposition parties, headed by Harris, a onetime deputy to Dr Douglas, as winner of the general election.

Caribbean leaders had publicly called on the electoral authorities in Basseterre to release the results of the polls and urged the outgoing prime minister to accept the mandate given to the opposition.

On April 22, Victor Banks led his main opposition Anguilla United Front (AUF) to power in that British Overseas Territory winning six of the seven seats at stake there.

The incumbent Anguilla United Movement (AUM) did not win a seat. Medical practitioner Dr. Ellis Lorenzo Webster, who took over the leadership of the AUM after the 82-year-old Hubert Hughes — Anguilla’s oldest chief minister, who had indicated he was stepping down after 40 years in active politics. Lorenzo received 412 votes in District One, losing to independent Pamovan Webster, a lawyer and businessman, who polled 460 votes.

In 2010, the AUM had won five of the seven seats to take control of the Legislative Council.

“It is a significant victory for the Anguilla United Front. We were able to win six of the seven seats and this is the first time this has happened . . . since 1980,” a jubilant Banks told reporters.

In Guyana, the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had sought to extend its 22 year hold on power when Ramotar led the party into the May 11 general and regional elections.

However, the party was literally stopped in its tracks by an opposition political alliance comprising A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC).

David Granger, 70, the retired army Brigadier, led the coalition to a one-seat majority in the 65-member Parliament.

But despite the official announcement by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the PPP/C was not ready to concede defeat.

Instead, the party was claiming victory while alleging there were irregularities.

It was then that former United States President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center had sent a team of observers to monitor the poll, called on the PPP/C to accept the results.

“The voters have spoken,” Carter said in a statement. That position was echoed by the governments of the United States, Britain and Canada.

Granger, as he took the oath of office five days after the polls, reminded the country that on January 1 this year, the coalition had declared that 2015 would be the year of democratic renewal.

“We were right. Let us therefore rejoice in the people’s choice. Let us embrace each other regardless of religion, regardless of race, regardless of class, regardless of occupation.

“As fellow Guyanese, let us work together to realize our inspiring national motto ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny’,” he said, adding, “We rejoice not only in the favourable results but more particularly in the enjoyment of our democracy.”

Towards the end of June, the PPP/C made good on its threats to challenge the results. Citing at least 20 reasons, it filed an election petition asking the High Court to order fresh elections in Guyana.

The petition, in the name of PPP candidate and party member Ganga Persaud, alleged that valid ballots were incorrectly rejected and that several Statements of Poll used by GECOM and/or the Chief Elections Officer to ascertain the results contained arithmetic errors.

The petition further claimed that there was multiple voting in the election and that persons whose names were not on the Official List of Electors were allowed to vote.

It was also alleged that voters were impersonated, and that huge mobs gathered at several polling stations and other strategic places, threatening, intimidating and creating such fear and tension that it rendered it impossible for polling and counting agents and elections agents to carry out their duties and functions properly.

The PPP/C was also hoping that the High Court would determine and declare that the whole of the electoral process was so flawed that the results would be thrown out.

But while the PPP/C was challenging the election results, the new government announced that long-awaited local government elections, last held in Guyana in 1994, would now take place on March 18, 2016.

“Elections are important, because they are a democratic constitutional right. They are essential, because the entire local government system is currently rotten and must be rehabilitated and made fully functional,” said Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan, while stating that, “local government is about handing decision-making power to the people, to enable them to efficiently and effectively manage their communities”.

In the Dutch-speaking CARICOM country of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, the former army general, who staged two coups dating back to the 1980s, led his National Democratic Party (NDP) to a second consecutive five-year term in office on May 25.

The NDP won 27 of the 51 seats in the parliament, while the opposition grouping, V7, a coalition of six parties, secured 17 seats. Five seats went to Alternative Combination of former guerilla Ronnie Brunswijk while the remaining two seats went to DOE and PALU respectively.

The US Embassy congratulated the country “on completing the democratic voting process”.

In fact, it said, “it was heartening to witness the enthusiasm with which Surinamese voters participated in the electoral process”.

Over in the British Virgin Islands, a political party with the same initials of Bouterse’s party, was swept to power on June 9.

Premier Dr. Orlando Smith scored a commanding victory, winning seven of the nine constituencies with the main opposition Virgin Islands Party (VIP) winning the remaining two seats.

The other political parties – People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) and the People’s Progressive Coalition (PPC) – failed to win seats in the election that was monitored by a team from the Commonwealth.

Political change was also to come in Trinidad and Tobago.

After being sworn in, in 2010 as the first woman to head a government in the twin island republic Persad Bissessar sought to avoid going the route that her predecessor in office Patrick Manning went after he called a snap election almost two years ahead of the constitutional deadline.

Instead, Persad Bissessar waited until the very end. It was during the final month of her five-year term in office that she led her People’s Partnership (PP) government into elections on September 7.

However, that gamble did not pay off. She lost.

The results showed that the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) had won 23 of the 41 seats with the remaining 18 going to the PP that had won 29 seats in the 2010 poll.

“I want to thank all the people for the very hard work they did in bringing a successful end in what was a difficult election. I want to thank Trinidad and Tobago for demonstrating once again that we can conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the name Trinidad and Tobago,” said PNM leader Dr. Keith Rowley.

The 66-year-old volcanologist, one of the longest-serving legislators, said “we are confident that the country has been placed in good hands.

“We have prepared ourselves well. We expect that we will take the responsibilities of managing the affairs of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago in a way that will allow us all as a people to look at tonight ….as the beginning of a new era.”

Persad Bissessar had not conceded defeat on the night the election results were announced and soon after the new government was sworn into office, her United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the coalition, filed a petition in the High Court challenging the results in six marginal constituencies.

The party claimed that the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) had erred when it gave an extra hour for voters in Trinidad to cast ballots as a result of inclement weather.

In September, High Court judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer gave the party the green light to go ahead with the petition, but the ruling was appealed by both the EBC and the PNM.

However on November 30, the three-member Court of Appeal, in a split decision, ruled in favour of the UNC and former attorney general Anand Ramlogan described the judgment as “illuminating, powerful and very incisive.

“It is not very often there is a dissenting judgment from the Honourable Chief Justice, but it augurs well for the strengthening, independence and fairness of our judicial system that we can have such a strong court and we can have a judgment in a matter like this with robust intellectual discourse emanating from the lips of all three independent judges.”

In mid-December, Justice Dean-Armorer called on all parties in the election petition to meet the various deadlines set for filing documents.

The judge gave the UNC until January 29, 2016 to file affidavits in support of the petitions, while the EBC was given until February 29to file affidavits in response. The court also set dates in March and April for filing of affidavits in reply and notices indicating evidential objections, should there be any.

The Court was due to set the date for hearing the petitions once all the deadline dates were met.

One of the biggest casualties of the Trinidad and Tobago election was Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, who had hoped his Independent Liberal Party (ILP) would have made a difference. Instead, it lost all the seats contested, as Warner, who later stepped down as leader, appeared focused on staying out of a United States jail.

The former FIFA vice president was arrested here after he was indicted in May by a US grand jury on 12 charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering over an escalating scandal at football`s world governing body. Warner was released on TT$2.5 million (one TT dollar = US$0.16) bail after spending a night in jail. He now has to wait until January 22, 2016 to know whether he has been successful in challenging his extradition to the US.

The embattled Warner had sought leave to have the High Court review the extradition treaty Trinidad and Tobago has with the United States, as well as the Authority to Proceed  (ATP) signed by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi in September, which gave the chief magistrate the authority to proceed with extradition proceedings in the lower court.

Warner is contending that Al Rawi was wrong to proceed with his extradition. He is also challenging the extradition order, saying it goes against domestic laws.

By yearend, court action was also contemplated in St. Vincent and the Grenadines after Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves sealed an historic victory in the December 9 general election.

It was the fourth consecutive occasion that the Unity Labour Party (ULP), led by 69-year-old Gonsalves, defeated the New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by the 70-year-old Arnhim Eustace.

The margin of victory was the same as in 2010 when the ULP won by an 8-7 margin. However, Eustace is contending this time around that the polls were rigged in favour of Gonsalves and that his party would not accept the results.

“We of the New Democratic Party are confident that we have won the general elections based on figures received by our various polling agents,” the NDP said in a statement, adding, “We in St Vincent and the Grenadines will not let this injustice stand.”

But Gonsalves sought to warn his opponents that politics “ought never to degenerate into naked divisiveness and dog-eat-dog impulses.

Indeed he said: “Intolerance, bile, and hatred have no part to play in the mature competitive politics of our Caribbean civilization.

“Raw ambitions, unrestrained personal agendas and a refusal to accept the reality of the declared election results constitute a combustible mix, if directed by irresponsible men and women.

“I offer unsolicited but honest advise to the NDP leadership that if you continue like this, it would only result in your accelerated political demise, a veritable political oblivion,” he added.

As the year drew to close the protests intensified resulting in the arrest of at least one opposition candidate and Gonsalves reminding the NDP “those who have lost must accept that they have lost”.
Ben Exeter’s arrest comes only hours after the court rejected his application seeking access to certain electoral documents.

Prime Minister Barrow had no such problems in Belize when he gambled and called the elections on November 5, way ahead of the constitutional deadline.

Barrow, 64, led his ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) to a third consecutive general election victory, winning 19 of the 31 seats with the remainder going to the People’s United Party (PUP) that had campaigned on a change platform.

In the end, Barrow was left standing. He described the results as “a magnificent victory”.

Politically, the Caribbean was also divided throughout 2015 on a candidate for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General, with both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda refusing to withdraw their nominees.

In the end, Dominica’s candidate, Baroness Patricia Scotland, the former British attorney general was elected at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta in November. Sir Ronald Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda candidate, did not make it past the first round of balloting.

Guyana went on a diplomatic offensive in 2015 after Venezuela renewed claims to a vast majority of the country.

CARICOM leaders, at their annual summit in Barbados, came out in full support for Georgetown after Venezuela declared that the arbitral award of 1899, which definitively settled the boundary between the two countries, was “null and void”.

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, the CARICOM chairman, said the 15-member grouping reiterated “its firm, long-standing and continued support for the maintenance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana and for the unhindered economic and social development of all of Guyana”.

“In this regard, the Community, once again, expresses its hope for an early resolution of the controversy which has arisen as a result of Venezuela’s contention that the arbitral award of 1899, which definitively settled the boundary between the two countries, is null and void,” the leaders said in an end of summit communiqué.

President Nicolas Maduro had issued a decree on May 26 claiming ownership of all the Atlantic waters off the Essequibo Coast.

This includes the oil-rich Stabroek Block, where American oil giant Exxon Mobil in May found a “significant” reserve of high quality crude oil.

ExxonMobil said the discovery was made in one of the two wells it dug, in the Liza-1 drill site, which realized more than 295 feet of high-quality oil-bearing sandstone.

President Granger took his country’s border dispute to the international community, urging the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to do more than just monitor conflicts that affect small states, such as Guyana.

“Guyana calls upon the United Nations to give real meaning to Resolution A/RES/49/31 of May 9th 1994 by establishing a collective security system not merely to ‘monitor, but, more so, maintain the security of small states’,” Granger said in his maiden address to the world body, adding “this Resolution is a ‘manifesto’ of small states security.

During the year, Guyana also sought clarification from Suriname after President Bouterse made a statement regarding the New River Triangle area, which both countries have laid claim to for decades.

Surinamese media had reported President Bouterse as saying that the maritime border issue with Guyana was back on the agenda even though the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea ruled in Guyana’s favour back in 2007 after gun boats forced a CGX rig out of Guyana’s waters.

But while other countries fought for territory, Dominica faced destruction of “epic proportion”on August 27, as Tropical Storm Erika hit the island, leaving in its trail death and destruction.

By yearend, a number of people remained unaccounted for and were presumed dead.

In all, the storm claimed over 30 lives, with total damage estimated at EC$1.298 billion (one EC dollar = US$0.37).

As Dominica looked to the international community for help in rebuilding its battered economy and infrastructure, it was Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who said the island faces a housing resettlement programme of “monumental proportions” as official figures showed that over 890 devastated homes.

Tropical Storm Erika took a toll on Haiti.

But on the upside, the 15-member CARICOM left Paris in December brimming with confidence and hope at the end of the United Nations Climate Change conference, COP 21.

“We saw our community operating at its best on the international front in Paris. The coordination was superb. I want to say hats off to our negotiators, led by Dr. Jimmy Fletcher, Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development in St. Lucia, and of course the role played by all our ministers and our Heads of Government.

“I was there feeling very proud. We were of a single mind. We were one body with several parts working together in unison to achieve a set of goals that we had set. We left Paris with . . .  our objectives being addressed in the Agreement,” CARICOM Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque said.

The CARICOM campaign, with its popular mantra “1.5 to Stay Alive” successfully promoted the ‘temperature rise’ and a short-list of other critical issues to the region.  The long-term temperature goal was pushed as an existential issue for the region, and CARICOM negotiators were able to influence a number of countries in hard negotiations, to have language included in the final text, which takes account of the 1.5 degree option.

Still the economy, continued to be dogged by challenges in 2015.

So much so that by yearend, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was warning that regional countries will face a “bleak and complex economic situation in 2016 as they take a marked step back this year”.

In its annual report – “Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2015,” ECLAC said regional economies would have contracted by -0.4 per cent on average in 2015 and would grow by just 0.2 per cent next year, affected by a complex external scenario.

Suriname President Desi Bouterse. Photo courtesy

Suriname President Desi Bouterse. Photo courtesy

The news came as the Caribbean bade farewell to several outstanding individuals in 2015, including the Jamaican Sheldon McDonald, head of the law department at The University of Guyana; Lawrence Placide, Director of the International Trade and Negotiation Unit (ITNU) of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce; former acting President of Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph Emmanuel Carter; and the former national security minister Martin Joseph, who drowned in Tobago.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines seven students died when their school bus plunged into the raging sea at Rock Gutter, an uninhabited area between Owia and Fancy on the island’s east coast, while in Jamaica, the death of 19 babies at the University Hospital of the West Indies and the Cornwall Regional Hospital was linked to the outbreak of Klebsiella and Serratia bacterial infections that is said to be responsible for major outbreaks in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) all over the world.

A number of sporting personalities also died this year, including the former West Indies Cricket Board chief executive officer Steve Camacho and the Jamaican-born Canadian athlete Daundre Barnaby, who died while swimming with his teammates in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Barbadian Robin Hunte, one of the founding members of the internationally acclaimed group, the Merrymen, also died in 2015.

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Category: African Caribbean, Anguilla News, Antigua News, Bahamas News, Barbados News, British Virgin Islands News, Culture & Society, Dominica News, Grenada News, Guyana News, How Caribbean R U?, Jamaica News, Martinique News, Montserrat News, St Vincent and the Grenadines News, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia News, St. Maarten News, Trinidad News

About the Author (Author Profile)

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own

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