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Elections everywhere!

By Terry Nisbett

Election energy is bouncing off our corner of the Caribbean. The Netherlands Antilles held parliamentary elections on Friday, January 22. Two days later on Monday, January 25, St. Kitts and Nevis held its general elections and next month Anguilla will have its elections on February 15. It is interesting how election dates in the neighbouring islands are so close.

The similarities continue. Because the Netherlands Antilles is a type of federal structure, elections for its parliament meant polling across the five island territories of Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten. Likewise in St. Kitts and Nevis which is a federation, general elections mean polling activity in St. Kitts and on Nevis too. In effect there were seven sets of elections. And there is still more election activity in the near future for the Netherlands Antilles and St. Kitts and Nevis. This time Nevisians alone will return to the polls in 2011 for local elections. Later this year, by October 10, there will be a historic change in the political relationship between the islands of the Netherlands Antilles and the Kingdom of the Netherlands and some islands will be choosing their individual island parliaments.

IT CAN SEEM like so many elections for small populations on small islands. Do the voters get tired of it all? Judging from the noise; the music; heated exchanges; fireworks in the air, on the platform and on the radio; the colours; the flag waving and the motorcades, I think they love it. Do not for one minute think that because the campaigns can take on a festive atmosphere at times that the voters are not serious. It would be hard to find an indifferent and apathetic citizen during election time in any of the islands just mentioned. Some are more vocal than others. I am not certain if it is the same in the Netherlands Antilles and Anguilla, but in St. Kitts and Nevis, the women are very expressive about their politics. For this campaign the young people were battling it out on the Facebook pages with comments flying back and forth and pictures worth more or less than a thousand words. In the process, they were totally unaware of how they were demonstrating their level of education and the level of development of their country to enable their technology supported debates. Even the less vocal ones in the populace are quietly engaged in the process, listening and comparing and making a decision.

One reason why the electorate does not seem tired of elections is their appreciation of the battle that the ancestors fought to obtain the right of adult suffrage. Caribbean people do not like going out in the rain. After a few heavy showers, some begin to hope that school is closed or there is no work for that day, but on election day in St. Kitts and Nevis, they stood in line under their umbrellas in order to vote. It was not comfortable and as we waited for hours in line, one young man, as he held his umbrella against the wind driven rain, made it clear that he was enduring the discomfort because his ancestors "fought for this." They value the freedom and the rights of the voter.

IT IS NOT JUST a sense of history which drives the enthusiasm. The present level of economic comfort or discomfort is a prime motive for involvement. Although many appeals are made to the electorate about the future and the expectations they should have about the future, I think human nature is such that most people will use the present circumstances to make a judgement on what they could reasonably expect, future notwithstanding.

The three territories which have been involved in elections are different political entities. Anguilla is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom and the islands of the Netherlands Antilles are also territories of the Kingdom of the Netherlands while St. Kitts and Nevis is an independent country. Earlier in 2009, the Caribbean was generally displeased with the decision of the British government to have The Turks and Caicos Islands ruled by the Governor despite the fact that they had a lawfully elected government. This raises the question as to how valid is an election in a country which cannot really determine its own way? Would the threat or possibility of having their decisions overruled by the government of the parent country dampen and discourage the electorate from participating in the electoral process? It might in the Turks and Caicos, but it may make little difference in the Netherlands Antilles and Anguilla, but one can be sure that the people have pondered on the possibility of direct rule and on the ambiguity of their political status. But they are just as enthusiastic about their elections which allow choices and freedom to determine the direction of their land within the limits of their situation. It is certainly preferable to have some say in your own affairs than none at all. So whether there is a possibility of direct rule, elections are still an important and valued exercise in a non independent territory.

I OVERHEARD one young woman say, "These are the best elections I can remember." Never mind that she was making the statement some days before election day. This was someone who obviously had enjoyed the campaigning of the political parties in St. Kitts and Nevis. It certainly was interesting with cases in court even before election was called reversing the usual order of things which often sees queries being determined in court post election. It is obvious that the electorate enjoys the energy of an election.

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