Guyana to Belize, Haiti and Dominican Republic were all gearing up for the periodic celebration of democracy that is national elections.
By Aparaajita Pandey
It has been a busy year for the Caribbean and the islands are looking at busy 2021 as well. At the onset of this year, the Caribbean region was looking forward to elections in almost all of the Caribbean nations. Guyana to Belize, Haiti and Dominican Republic were all gearing up for the periodic celebration of democracy that is national elections. While countries like Haiti were overdue for a national election, others like Guyana were on a precipice of deciding a stable political way forward that would be able to adequately meander and profit through the realm of hydrocarbon treasures.
The Caribbean had begun this year on a hopeful note. The IMF had predicted that the islands were on track towards a stronger economy that would slowly but steadily register growth from a 3.3 per cent rate in 2019 to a 3.7 per cent rate in 2020. While the states of Suriname and Guyana were speculated to receive a windfall attributing to the discovery of offshore crude oil reserves, the economic predictions were not too grim for other nations either. The mostly island region was envisioned to fare much better economically than their mainland neighbours to the south.
However, the Caribbean has had to face the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic just like the rest of the world. While the news cycles have been dominated by the pandemic related devastation in bigger nations like Brazil and Mexico, more so due to the politics that surrounded pandemic response in these countries, the Caribbean nations have also had to bear the brunt of the pandemic. As a region already facing an existential threat due to climate change and environmental degradation, the pandemic has just added exponentially more pressure on an already frail eco-system and fragile economies. The election agendas across the region have now also revolved around the mitigation and management of the COVID crises among other issues.
As Trinidad and Tobago chose to give People’s National Movement (PNM) a majority in the elections, PM Dr Keith Rowley declared a victory. His victory and that of his party was a close one as the PNM won a total of 22 seats and the opposition party; the United National Congress or the UNC led by Kamla Persad Bissessar won 19 seats. As the winning party acquired a majority at 21 seats, the UNC was quick to concede a gracious defeat. Issues of corruption and crime had hounded the PNM for some time and the receding natural oil resources of Trinidad and Tobago had led to a growing impatience and dissatisfaction with the government. But the Trinidad regime was successful where others had failed. The Rowley regime was able to minimize the loss due to COVID. While Trinidad and Tobago have a population of close to 1.4 million, it recorded approximately 300 cases and only 8 were fatal. This curbing of the impact of Coronavirus did favour the government during the elections. While both Guyana and Suriname have smaller populations and have recorded more COVID related cases as well as deaths.
Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname share a lot more than just the same year to hold general elections. The three countries were not only colonies but were also built first on slavery and then on indentured labour. As all three relegated their original inhabitants often called the Caribs to the interiors of their respective nations, often relieving them of their political voice and economic agency, the Afro-origin and Indian-origin communities in all three countries played a greater role in the struggle for political clout and economic power.
The elections in Guyana and Suriname both resulted in regime changes. As Guyana elected Dr Mohammad Irfaan Ali as their president from the People’s Progressive Party and Suriname opted for the Chan Santonkhi regime instead of the decades-long Bouterse government, the people of both nations displayed that they were ready for a change. It would be remiss to not mention the fact that both Guyana and Suriname also stand at the precipice of incredible oil fortunes and have a shown a proclivity towards a government that promises a better administration and facilitation of setting up the crude oil industry. Trinidad, on the other hand, is a country that is running on depleted oil reserves and is trying to combat crime, Venezuelan refugees, unemployment, corruption, and now a pandemic. The people of Trinidad chose a government that helped them with their most immediate and pressing concern.
All three governments now herculean tasks ahead of them, as the two new regimes need to prove to their people that they are capable leaders, the Trinidad regime needs to live up to the faith their voters have shown in them. It would be interesting to see what lies ahead for these nations.
(The author is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin American Studies at JNU and Asst. Professor at Dept. of Public Policy, Amity University, NOIDA. Views expressed are personal).