The Gods would probably not have willed it. Or maybe they would have, but the day of the 39th Anniversary of the March 13th, 1979 Grenada Revolution is also being carved into history as the date of another historic event – an election to decide which of the multi-island state’s two major parties will lead the nation for the next five years.
Essentially, Grenadian voters, on this day, this year, go to the polls to choose their next government – and to decide whether they will keep or change the ruling party - and with it, their Prime Minister.
It’s not the first time Islanders have had to go to the polls on March 13th. They did on the same date in 1990, when the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration timed the national general elections to coincide with the Revolution’s 11th Anniversary.
It was a bad gamble back then, as the opposition won. With a 68 percent voter turnout, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and The National Party (TNP) together gained 52.04 percent of the votes cast and won 9 of the 15 seats contested. Eighteen (18) years later, the NNP has again set the national general election for the same day and date – another Tuesday, March 13th.
So, with the same two parties going head-to-head on a date that marks two different and differing national political anniversaries, will this be the Lucky Tuesday for the NNP or another Glorious Tuesday for the NDC?
Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique (the full official name) is a small three-island English-speaking Caribbean state with a total area of only 133 square miles (344 square km) and just over 110,000 people of mainly African origin.
Its history is as colorful and spicy as its nutmeg and its red, gold and green flag, but is best known in the wider world as the small English-speaking Caribbean nation that in 1979 gave birth to the very first socialist revolution in Latin America and the Caribbean – indeed in the Western Hemisphere.
The US-led invasion that changed the course of Grenada’s history in 1983 led to a strain in strong ties between the UK and the USA, as US President Ronald Reagan did not inform British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that he’d dispatched a naval armada to intervene militarily in a former British colony.
Besides, Grenada was (and still is) a member of the British Commonwealth, an international club of former British colonies with Queen Elizabeth II as its official sovereign head. The Governor-General of Grenada is the formal Head of State and represents the Queen of England, who herself has been the independent CARICOM state’s Sovereign Head since 1952.
But the Trans-Atlantic tensions between London and Washington over Grenada would soon disappear after the US occupiers returned Grenada in 1984 to the traditional ‘first past the post’ and ‘winner take all’ election horse-race of the Westminster Model bequeathed by Britain to its former colonies.
The NNP has won five of the eight (8) General Elections held in Grenada since it’s first in 1984, including 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2013. The NDC won in 1990 and again in 2008.
But even while the NDC won less times, it defeated the NNP at the first poll following the US invasion held in 1984; and in 2008 it won 11 of the 15 seats.
However, the NNP has worked electoral wonders: it won 14 of the 15 seats in 1984 – and twice won all 15 (in 1999 and 2013).
Yet, the NNP is by no means invincible, having been twice beaten by the NDC.
The NNP also lost a recent crucial Constitutional Reform Referendum proposed by its administration under Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who is again leading his party into battle in 2018.
Some 45 candidates are vying to become Parliamentary Representative for the 15 constituencies, with the NNP and NDC each fielding a full slate while five smaller parties and five independents comprise the other 15.
Under the Westminster system, the winning party isn’t decided by the number of votes cast for it, but by the number of seats it won.
The party which wins (or the grouping which can command and count) a minimum of eight (8) seats, therefore has the majority vote – and forms the next government.
The NNP went into the elections with all of the 15 seats, while the NDC entered the race with a different leader.
The parties are hardly different in what their platforms offer, each only promising to do and deliver more and better.
None professes radical economic or political transformation, but each promises to do what’s never been done to address the same problems that have afflicted the nation for decades.
Like most (if not all) other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states, Grenada is struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly hostile international atmosphere in which small island states increasingly find their interests being pegged at a lower order.
With developed nations looking more inward and traditional aid donors cutting back on overseas assistance while imposing increasing political demands for available help, Grenada and other CARICOM states have had to resort to hitherto unthinkable measures to earn national income.
Today, governments compete to offer Citizenship by Investment and some also invite extra-regional multinational corporation speculation for oil in shared Caribbean waters.
Jobs continue to be the biggest demand of voters, who are also concerned as to which party will improve social conditions and get the economy moving with sufficient gusto to stimulate economic recovery.
The island continues to depend on traditional sectors like tourism and agriculture – especially its spice exports – but much more needs to be done to accelerate employment and guarantee continuity of social programs in sustainable ways.
Points of Interest
Interestingly, none of the parties is offering to reintroduce or revisit any of the programs that made the 1979-83 Revolution popular. In the 38 years since everything possible was done officially to repress efforts to keep its memory alive.
Equally interesting though is that prominent former revolutionaries are candidates in both of the major parties.
NDC Leader Nazim Burke was a major player in the Finance and Economy ministries during the revolution and was indeed appointed Minister of Finance by the Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) that ruled for just a week ahead of the US invasion.
On the other hand, Peter David, the popular NNP candidate and incumbent MP for the Town of St George (the capital) -- was a Captain in the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).
Chester Humphrey, who was President of the Senate before Parliament was dissolved on February 20, was also a member of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) that led the 1979 Revolution and has a long legacy as a revolutionary trade union leader, also took to the NNP’s platform during the campaign.
What difference the revolutionaries will make to their respective parties in an election held on the anniversary date of the revolution they all once were part of is still very much an unanswered question.
It all depends on not only the traditional voters but also the extent to which new and young voters have been sufficiently influenced or encouraged to register and vote.
The campaign was short as the NNP sought to take advantage of a snap poll to possibly catch the opposition off guard or in a state of unpreparedness. But as with every election, opposition supporters also surged out in the last days to boost their party’s chances.
There were strong reports that the last-minute surge in NDC support actually caused some panic in NNP Leadership circles to the extent that Dr. Mitchell – a doctoral mathematician -- invited them to have more confidence in those polls that have given their party the victory edge.
Prime Minister Mitchell, who has led the party through most of its wins and losses, has hinted this may be his last electoral race. He is also said to have signaled internally that he intends to eventually resign as Prime Minister but wishes to lead the NNP into victory, even if only for a last time.
As with all elections elsewhere, on Tuesday March 13th 2018 voters in Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique trekked to the polls slowly in the morning and quickly afternoon, before returning home or to the nearest community center, neighbor’s house or bar, to await the final count, which is always broadcast live on radio and TV – and across social media.
On Wednesday, March 14th, between the NNP and the NDC, one or the other will be celebrating a glorious victory or licking the wounds of defeat.
In both cases and each, they – and all the other parties, candidates, and voters – will also have helped continue to give other historical Grenadian relevance to March 13th.
At the end of the day, however, the revolution’s legacy will continue to outweigh and outlast any election or other lesser political event carefully or carelessly timed to coincide with it, for whatever effect.
And through it all, the history of the first English-speaking socialist revolution in modern history continues to inspire those who know what it achieved and represented, while increasingly attracting those seeking the real truth about what really happened in Grenada on March 13th, 1979.