Loss of Innocence
David and Goliath
He Who Pays the Piper
Future of Colin Powell
Requiem for Broken Dream
Gifts from Paradise
War On Iraq
Bush One, Saddam One
Remember J. Merridith
State of In-Betweenity
Words Do Matter
The Lynching of Iraq
Before the Riots Begin
A Dog's Life
Passing of PM Charles
Fin. & Econ. Survival
In Walks 'Madam Hawke'
Impressions - 05 Elections
Deep Throat Revealed
Beyond The Pale
Gospel of Judas
Rise of Barack Obama
© J.B. Sampson
IMPRESSIONS OF THE DOMINICA ELECTIONS CAMPAIGN
April 9, 2005 -This is the first general elections campaign in Dominica that I am aware of that is being played before an audience much larger than the domestic electorate. I am told that Dominicans in the far corners of the earth are tuning in via the internet and are immersed in real time politics like we have never seen before.
This new phenomenon will inevitably give rise to a controversial issue: Should the Dominica Diaspora be given the vote? And why not? After all, the Diaspora, we are told, contribute significant financial resources to relatives in the homeland and make possible what is commonly referred to as the "barrel economy". Some believe that the collapse of the banana industry and the implosion in the economy following the last UWP government would have resulted in a much larger degree of social hardship had there not been financial flows from Dominica residents overseas in addition to the barrels they continue to ship to their relatives.
But what strikes me most about this election is its level of sophistication in political strategy, media communication and political advertising in general. I listen regularly to DBS on line, in addition to Kairi FM and Q95. I also had the opportunity over the Easter holidays in Dominica, to scrutinize the local press, in addition to picking the brains of politically savvy people.
So the Labour Party is pitted against the United Workers Party. But in some ways it is a battle between the youthful Roosevelt Skerrit, who displays a high degree of charisma, and whose supporters would like to portray as the embodiment of a new hope and a new vision for the country, versus the UWP leader, Mr. James, somewhat less charismatic, but seeks to represent himself and his party as "can do" people, seasoned businessman who would be more effective in dealing with the IMF. It is a battle between the prime minister of a party who took the political risk of imposing taxes and public service retrenchment and other measures, all in an effort to stabilize his country's fiscal situation and an opposition leader whose government contributed in no small measure to the deterioration of the country's finances.
Most successful political campaigns have at least three things in common: a well articulated vision, a well articulated message, and a well articulated reason for the electorate to buy them over the competition. Central to success is a carefully thought out strategy to achieve one's ends. Let me attempt to slice and dice the contestants and see how they fare.
Let's start with the Labour Party. Mr. Skerrit seems to come across as superior on the vision front. He took the bold initiative of breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of the People's Republic of China, an act which brings the country in line with the vast majority of the international community. He stuck with his predecessor's commitment to fiscal prudence by continuing the IMF programme as a prerequisite for restoring the country to fiscal and economic health.
Labour stays on message by reminding the public of the dark days when civil servants could not get pay on time, that the new Chinese relations have resulted in considerable financial rewards, and that the economy has responded to the economic measures adopted, recording respectable growth this year with growth projected for next year. And to close the sale, they are putting out the idea that the economy would be at risk of unraveling and the largesse of the new Chinese friends would cease if UWP comes back to office.
There is also a sub message about the trustworthiness of the prime minister in contrast with the opposition leader who allegedly benefited from a venture capital fund for his personal use when he was prime minister.
I give the labour campaign very high marks for strategy as well. In addition to staying on message on the larger issue of the economy, they are making the most of the obvious charisma gap between Edison James and Mr. Skerrit. The famous dimples are splashed all over the print media in Dominica, drawing an obvious contrast with Mr. James whom they would like to portray as "morose", in the words of a Labour radio commercial. In fact another radio commercial likens Mr. James to Barabas, and Mr. Skerrit to Jesus. The UWP campaign ought not underestimate, or "misunderestimate", in the words of President George Bush, the potential damage of such a comparison in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian. The Labour campaign strategists must also be fully appreciative of the effectiveness of negative advertising. Political strategists in America believe that one of the ways to defeat an opponent is to raise the opponent's negatives while raising the other's positives. Labour seems to be applying this strategy to a finish. And if the characterization of Edison James as Barabas sticks, his political life could be considerably shortened.
The UWP is not doing too badly either. I believe their biggest ace on the vision front has to do with their dream of building an international airport and all of the bonanza that would flow as a consequence. They are also striving to depict themselves as capable business people who would do a better job of managing the country and the economy. Unfortunately, this claim seems to be drowned by the government, of reported progress on the economic and fiscal front, as well as the reported endorsement of credible institutions such as the World bank, IMF and the ECCB. My own view is that UWP will have a very hard time making a case for their return to power when they did not sound the alarm about the deteriorating conditions in the nation's finances at a time when they boasted of expertise in finance and business management.
Both teams seem to be aware of the benefits of rapid response, a sign, of course, that they may have learnt a lesson or two from US elections. I note that as soon as news of a poll showing a Labour advantage was released, a mysterious pollster appeared on the horizon to show that the UWP was indeed ahead.
I think amidst all of the noise that will undoubtedly be heard between now and the May 5 elections, the electorate would do well to be reminded that politics is war and war often employs the art of deception. And this could be said of both parties. It is therefore incumbent upon the electorate to make an honest effort to separate fact from fiction, substantive ideas from pipe dreams, and policies rooted in reality and the country's resource capability from those that are destined to lead to fiscal ruin and economic bankruptcy.
I cannot help but note that the UWP is stubbornly clinging to their dream of spending hundred of millions of dollars in pursuit of an international airport when it ought to be obvious that the traffic does not justify such a capital expenditure at this time and also considering the fact they have been told so by most credible economists. This is significant, given their record of fiscal management. And frankly, I believe the economy and the management of the economy going forward, and who is more capable of delivering the right mix of policies, should be what this election is all about.
The larger audience consisting of the Dominica Diaspora is keeping a close watch over developments in the homeland. This election could well prove to be the most important since independence because it is the first time that two distinct visions have been so well articulated. Nothing significant has been achieved in the economy over the last 25 years. The results of the election may prove to be the tipping point between forward movement, or business as usual.