By Syndicated Columnist, Whitfield Mason- When Dominicans go to the polls, which could be delayed until next year but widely expected this year, a lot will be at stake.
The island is at a crucial stage of its development, as it seeks to bounce back after suffering complete devastation by Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.
And judging by every measurable yardstick, Dominica has had the most successful recovery – having recuperated quicker than any of its neighboring states in the Caribbean that were hit during the deadly 2017 hurricane season.
Despite being a US territory, many villages in rural Puerto Rico are still without power, thousands of natives are displaced and several communities have been reduced to ghost towns, reminiscent of some parts of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
The same rings true for its US territorial siblings, the US Virgin Islands, whose local government is yet to build a single home, as many residents there are still feebly seeking to steady themselves without easy access to government assistance.
In Barbuda, most of the population is yet to return, due to the island’s difficulty with restoring electricity, water and telecommunications services and re-establishing a fully functioning hospital, police station and other essential services.
In the British Virgin Islands, the new government has just begun considering building houses for the scores of people who remained vulnerable after the storm, and the territories’ tourism growth has stagnated as a result of a significant number of its hotel stock remaining offline.
Saddled with unreliable internet connectivity and an inconsistent electricity supply in parts of the island, the new administration has also inherited headquarters that are yet to be fully refurbished. Together, these setbacks mean that despite the administration’s best efforts thus far, the BVI has a long way to go before it can match Dominica’s restoration.
While Dominica’s progress has been remarkable, the island is not completely out of the woods, due to the fact that rebuilding after such widespread destruction is a challenge even for countries with larger populations and economies.
It is by this token that the next general elections will not just be a referendum on the success of the recovery, but it will also be a vote on who the people think is best suited to continue the rebuilding of the country.
During last week’s launch of one of the Dominica Labour Party’s candidates, the party’s leader and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit indicated that his focus is set on ensuring the country’s consolidation and accelerated recovery.
While calling for change, the United Workers Party is yet to unveil in any detail, its broad programmatic platform, though in the initial skirmishes it has touted the need for change.
The next election is crucial for Dominica on many fronts; but for the leader of the UWP Lennox Linton, it is also very personal. Anything but victory could spell the end of his political career, as his party will likely ask for his resignation should he lead it to another defeat.
If the truth be told, the UWP has struggled with its leadership since Edison James’ resignation – and it surprisingly selected Linton, who has had a career in the media but was largely a political neophyte.
The DLP’s biggest challenge going into this election is not in any way its performance. While in any development process there will always be pockets of dissatisfaction, the record has been stellar, especially when compared to its neighbors who were besieged by natural and man-made disasters.
The progress in housing, healthcare; its now impressive road network; free tuition to its college and scholarships to universities abroad, are significant things to be touted about.
But the DLP is coming up against the reality of political history, by seeking to enter territory where no one has gone before: a fifth term.
And while Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has spoken about consolidation and acceleration, he could have easily argued that it is also about continuity and renewal.
Skerrit is a known quantity, a man at the helm for nearly a decade and a half who has grown into one of the region’s most respected leaders.
But what he has done this cycle is to boldly infuse his movement with a number of new candidates – and in many instances improving his party chances at that constituency level.
Octavia ‘Teacher Bonnie’ Alfred in Castle Bruce and Gretta Roberts in Grand Fond have genuine crossover appeal, and are widely touted as upgrades to those whom they replaced. From all the indicators, they both stand better chances at being elected in what are traditionally marginal seats, than if the party had kept their incumbents.
There is also an emerging narrative for another newcomer, Kent Edwards in La Plaine; and the selection of Fidel Grant in Wesley, whose launch was last week, also gives the DLP a better shot at retaking a seat which it lost in the last general elections.
No party has won or lost just yet, the next general elections in Dominica, for there are still moving parts. Anyone who suggests otherwise is selling you a rotten bag of goods. Both parties will be making a fatal mistake to think they have had it won.
At this stage, if you put a gun to my head and demand a prediction, I would say that in 10 of the 21 seats DLP is relatively solid, and five for the UWP, which suggests that the real fight is over six seats.
My analysis brings to question the “poll” released this week by Alex Bruno, who acknowledged that he is working directly for the UWP. The poll was reportedly done in the name of Caribbean Association for Caribbean Advancement (CAPA), a little known “polling organization” with not much of a track record.
While it predicts victory for the UWP, its biggest red flag is to suggest that 90 percent of its respondents are likely to vote for the opposition.
Statistically, this is impossible – not just in Dominica, but anywhere in the world.
That “finding” alone, immediately renders the “poll” a joke – and that is not putting it too harshly.
Any party which wins the next Dominica General election is likely to get anything around 52 to 57 percent of the vote.
In the end, it may come down to who is better organized, and who puts in place a more efficient machinery to turn out the vote.