Of pundits, polls and popular vote

In the midst of the very intriguing Donald Trump transition in the United States, many may have missed another significant political changeover which was taking place right under our noses in neighbouring St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Earlier this week the 72-year-old leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace, who is no stranger to Barbados and by no means the rest of the region, would have announced he was stepping down after 16 years at the helm of the main opposition party in Kingstown.

Arnhim Eustace
Arnhim Eustace

A former technocrat turned politician, Eustace’s political journey is very well documented, including the numerous pitfalls he has suffered along the way in a dramatic career that saw him literally rise overnight to fill the big shoes left by political titan Sir James Mitchell, and just as quickly fall from grace as it were, having been handed the prime ministership for a five month period between Sir James’ decision to step down and the holding of fresh elections.

In Eustace’s defence the writing was already on the wall for the NDP administration, which by the time he took over the reins was already faced with massive street demonstrations and spiralling political unrest and desperately in need of a new captain.

His has therefore been a bravely fought battle since then to restore Sir James’ party to the pinnacle of national glory. However, he has been forced to learn the hard way that politics is not any Sunday School and that there can be no underestimating the indomitable political force that is Ralph Gonsalves.

Ironically critics say he was simply too nice a gentleman to ever overcome ‘Comrade Ralph’, who is as charming as he is ruthless.

Which brings us to the issue of popular vote.

For even though Eustace has never been able to gain the upper hand on Gonsalves in any of the four elections he contested against him, he certainly came close enough to doing so, especially in the last two elections in which the Unity Labour Party (ULP) had to settle for a one-seat majority in the 15-seat parliament in Kingstown.

Like Hillary Clinton, Eustace, who is stepping down to give way to new leadership, can leave office satisfied that while he was unable to bring home the bacon for the NDP he certainly gave “The Comrade” a run for his money given that the ULP went into the 2010 elections with a 12-3 majority and came out an 8-7 result which was repeated in the December 2015 election.

At the same time, the ruling party’s share of the popular vote has dropped by nearly four per cent, while the NDP’s support has risen by almost the same number with the two parties almost in a 50/50 split with the electorate.

With Eustace out of the leadership picture, it will therefore be interesting to see where both the NDP and ULP go from here. Is Gonsalves still prepared to stay on, or whether he will be prepared to follow Eustace’s lead and bow out gracefully at this stage, making way for his son Camillo as expected?

Really there is nothing left for him to prove politically, having already secured four electoral victories on the trot.

But then again, who knows?

In this era of political strategists whose primary preoccupation seems to be proving the pollsters and the more vocal members of the electorate wrong, maybe Gonsalves could be out to buck the trend even further, by pulling off an even bigger stunner than Trump.

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