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A cursory look at NDC candidates – Part III

The final part of this article assesses the candidate for St. David’s and political leader, and the candidate for St. George’s South East, Phillip Telesford.

It would not be prudent to go forward with Telesford at this time considering his behaviour leading up to the NDC leadership contest, and other issues that will cause him to be a drag on the slate of candidates.

The NNP will have a field day with him based on his past actions which may actually harm other candidates and the image of the party.

The party should have doubled up and made a valiant effort to get a better candidate on the ticket or even consider a previous one before going with Phillip, who it is alleged is trailing the incumbent by a large margin in internal polling.

Time is of the essence and the party must act now and field a more credible candidate for the St. George’s South East constituency.

The situation in the St. David’s constituency is somewhat similar since rumour has it that the incumbent political leader is not happy with the current Member of Parliament and may wish to see a change in the candidate for the upcoming elections.

This uncertainty could benefit the young political leader of the NDC if his team does the organisational work, properly canvasses the constituency and institutes an effective Election Day machinery to get voters to the polls.

However, the young political leader must be under no illusion that the task for him to unseat the incumbent candidate is a herculean one, particularly if the current tone and tenor of the NDC’s campaign is anything to go by and it may not look good for him and other candidates on the slate.

The NDC political strategists either failed to understand or neglected in their planning, the interrelation between the extensive system of political patronage and canvassing by the incumbent party. Political patronage is the use of state resources to reward individuals for their political support.

The Imani program, debushing campaign, housing assistance to build toilets, and the SEED project, which originally was not designed nor intended to be used as a political tool, are some of the pathways used to transfer state resources in return for political support.

The partisan nature in which beneficiaries are identified and the databases generated by these programs give the ruling party an inherent advantage in canvassing. This is further reinforced by the biased manner in which the ongoing capital works programs are implemented.

Therefore, the ruling party has a built-in structural advantage which makes two of the more important electioneering activities, canvassing and registration, much easier for them.

One of the few ways in which the NDC can counter this advantage is to engage in intense emotional and other forms of messaging to peel off support from this base of voters that are beneficiaries of these programs, get voters on the fence and those that have not voted in previous election cycles to vote for the party in the upcoming elections.

Unfortunately, the party is grossly wanting in that regard. Where is all the information that ‘Ponytail’ claims to have on the incumbent leader, footage of public workers marching in the sun and rain for their four percent salary increase, to the poor construction worker in pain after being beaten by the Caucasian family?

Where are the videos from the many instances of double standards during the height of Covid restrictions and the litany of instances of contempt towards the people of Grenada that could be used to create messaging that seeks to counter the institutional advantage as a result of political patronage?

In addition, it will make it easier for the canvassers doing work in the field since they will be armed with messaging to engage prospective voters in an attempt to get them to vote for the NDC.

The fact that the NDC has failed to ramp up effective messaging, even at this point on the eve of an election announcement, is unfortunate and will jeopardise the chances of credible candidates on the NDC slate.

The incumbent party thrives on a system of clientelism in the form of explicit or implicit quid-pro-quo that gives it another clear advantage because of the asymmetric relationships between political agents and groups of voters.

These groups of voters including large swaths of the Indian and Middle Eastern communities and now Citizens by Investment (CBI) who are resident on the island are likely to support the ruling party driven by the system of clientelism.

There is synergy between the extensive network of political patronage and system of clientelism. They feed on one another in this collaborative manner which is seen in the biased allocation of civil works contracts and subcontracts to certain local contractors and Trinidadian firms.

These firms are then expected to hire workers in a largely partisan manner. These workers then become part of the ruling party’s base of voters. It is also a source of campaign financing that results in huge disparity in spending between political parties during the election campaign.

The inherent disadvantages faced by the opposition party and the little time that remains before a possible election announcement gives the NDC a small window of opportunity to get it right and the only options that are available to them are to ramp up messaging and propaganda, embark on a last ditch effort to get persons to register, intensify canvassing in all constituencies and set up a very strong election day machinery to get out the vote.

The political leader going forward must be seen as influencing the national dialogue by inserting himself in the conversation on national issues such as public servants’ pensions.

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He must attempt to draw a contrast between him as a young visionary, a man for the moment destined to lead against an incumbent that is stagnant, stuck in a stale vision for the country, more inclined to be cunning and deceptive in the pursuit of his ego-centric policy agenda designed to keep large swaths of voters in dependency on state resources to maintain political self-preservation.

Dickon Mitchell, the NDC political leader must reference in regard to the argument on his experience, the youthfulness of Roosevelt Skerrit becoming Prime Minister of Dominica at the age of 27, while the great Comrade leader Maurice Bishop was Prime Minister at 35, both are considered successful leaders in their own right.

He must draw upon the circumstance of Volodymyr Zelensky the young Ukrainian comedian who became President of his country and man of the moment as he leads his country in a fight for its very existence against Russian aggression.

To demonstrate that he too can rise to the occasion and lead Grenada out of the abyss of social stagnation and political tribalism, he must be bold and aspire to big ideas if he is to capture the imagination of the people of St. David and the nation.

In order to win St. David, he must have his team step up the organisational work required to strengthen canvassing, step up registration, and set up the machinery to get out the vote on election day.

At the same time, he must lead the effort to lift the tone and tenor of the campaign to a heightened crescendo where it is able to compete with the NNP optics, visuals and crowd intensity every weekend.

He has to demonstrate he can go toe to toe with the incumbent ‘realpolitik’ leader if he is to capture the attention of a majority of voters.

Dickon has to start to find ways to dominate the airwaves, voice and visuals on social media platforms. He must take a page from Zelensky’s playbook and dictate the narrative to galvanise mass support among the population.

Going forward he has to be in the news three to four times a week touting the experience of his team, with Denis Cornwall and Lenox Andrews former senior Ministry of Finance officials who helped design and steer Grenada through a successful structural adjustment program, Gloria Thomas and David Andrews, former senior public servants who were the Director of Emergency Management and Chief Education Officer respectively, and Tessa St Cyr, a lecturer at St. George’s University.

He has to demonstrate to the nation that his youthful slate is a clear break from the old guard by promoting a new vision for Grenada and different direction of governance and economic policy management.

The political leader and his team of strategists must understand that the extensive system of political patronage has created a firewall of support for the ruling party among its beneficiaries.

This is in much the same manner that the system of clientelism has given constituencies, such as South St. George a built-in structural advantage with over one thousand resident Citizens by Investment (CBI) persons and expatriate communities of Middle Eastern and Indian communities who are likely beneficiaries.

In order to overcome this challenge, the NDC has to make a concerted pitch for the undecided votes and voters who have stayed away from the polling booth over many election cycles.

The political leader, though in sharp contrast to the condescending, deceptive, and agitated national address of the incumbent, should have in his speech made a much stronger effort to excite undecided voters.

There was a missed opportunity as well to lock in support among public sector workers and their families by going beyond expression of an intent to pay pension to brief specifics on how the payment can be made. This would have put the NDC way ahead of the NNP, which appeared content on delay tactics with its committee of three sycophants and a certain hitman.

In summary, to liken the characterisation by Peter Wickham of the NDC with its pants just under its knees having been at the ankles for a long time, if the party has to now raise its pants to the waist in time for the elections which can be called anytime now, it must embark on an extraordinary effort to lift its national campaign by doubling down on registration, canvassing and messaging in all constituencies and urgently put together an election day machinery to get voters to the poll stations.

The NDC can’t afford to allow opportunities to energise undecideds and voters on the fence to go a-begging, rather it must become more activist on burning issues that affect people and agile as it navigates the very fast changing political landscape if the party wants to win the elections.

The political leader must not think he can do this by himself; rather he ought to listen to his strategists and advisors and be more strategic in his targeting when delivering speeches and addressing issues in the media.

The NNP has a strong firewall of supporters therefore the NDC’s strategy should be to attract large swaths of undecided voters and those who have not voted in previous election cycles and energise their base into a tsunami of voters that will overwhelm the NNP’s firewall and neutralise the built-in structural advantages created by the system of clientelism.

The speech on Wednesday night, though more positive than the incumbent leader’s speech, didn’t achieve the threshold to excite such voters.

In his next speech or media engagement the young political leader must attempt to reach out in a stronger way to this voting block if he is to ignite the process of creating the tsunami.

Special Correspondent