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Who will win Mitchell vs Mitchell?

This is a NEW TODAY exclusive from a top Barbadian Journalist and certified Political Strategist who graduated from Carleton University in Canada

In the raging Grenadian political battle pitting a younger Mitchell against an older Mitchell, the foremost question on everyone’s mind, as election day fast approaches, is who will prevail during the final face-off on June 23.

It is arguably the island’s most significant general election since 1984 when parliamentary democracy was restored, four years after it was derailed by the English-speaking Caribbean’s first coup d’etat and a year after US forces intervened amid the chaos following the bloody self-destruction of the Grenada Revolution in another coup.

In essence, the June 23 poll offers voters a choice between staying with the familiarity of the past or embracing the hope of the future and unlocking new and limitless possibilities. At 75 and with his most productive years arguably behind, the outgoing Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, represents the past. The post-revolution past, to be specific.

Dr. Mitchell has been a fixture in Grenadian politics since 1984 when he was first elected to the House of Representatives. He comfortably retained his St George’s North West seat in every subsequent general election. The New National Party (NNP) leader is Grenada’s longest serving Prime Minister.

Dr Mitchell’s main challenger this time around is 44 year old attorney-at-law Dickon Mitchell, a newcomer to electoral politics who was elected leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) just over seven months ago. The NDC is seeking to avenge crushing defeats in 1999, 2013 and again 2018 when the NNP won all 15 parliamentary seats.

Watching the battle from afar, mostly via Internet streaming, it looks as if the NDC can achieve this objective. Its campaign rallies have been attracting huge, enthusiastic crowds, noticeably made up of young people. As a newcomer to frontline electoral politics, Dickon Mitchell’s success in mobilising the NDC’s base in such a short timeframe has been nothing short of astounding.

He is clearly an effective organiser and is apparently seen by the youth in particular as representing hope for the future. When young people gravitate in their numbers towards an opposition party, it usually spells trouble for an incumbent, especially if it has been in office for a long time like the NNP.

Additionally, there is a human tendency after a time to grow tired of experiencing the same old and to yearn for an experience of the new and different. This human behaviour trait cannot be ruled out as a factor working against the NNP. In campaigns, it is emotion, more than reason, that informs voter decisions.

Whenever a country goes into change mode, there is a particular vibe in the air which the politically astute can easily detect. It usually begins to take shape in the months leading up to an election. It gradually builds and eventually peaks at the height of campaigning.

Although I am looking on from a distance, I have been sensing a strong desire for change coming across the seas. This was long before news broke over the past weekend that a certain political consultant, brought in to shore up the faltering NNP campaign, had hurriedly left after concluding there was no life-saving miracle he could perform.

Perhaps Dr. Mitchell too senses the end is near. When he announced the election date, I found it rather interesting that almost immediately he closed the door for new voters to register. A logical conclusion is that new voters were seen as more likely to support the NDC than NNP. Hence, the pre-emptive strike.

I watched the NNP’s opening rally and a few afterwards. The mood was relatively flat and the platform offered more a rehash of the past, centered around Dr. Mitchell, than a vision for an exciting journey into the future. Dr. Mitchell’s case for re-election, as presented that night, was anchored in a call to give him “one more for the road”.

In other words, let him retire from the office of Prime Minister and presumably Parliament also in a blaze of glory. Is this a sufficiently strong and compelling reason for voters, other than die-hard NNP supporters, to want to back the NNP’s re-election bid? For voters today, it is first about “me”. The verdict will be given on June 23.

Elections are never won by a party’s supporters alone. It’s always the “floating voter” who tips the scales in a general election. These voters are not party-aligned and tend to be motivated by any credible plan to improve the general welfare and boost opportunities for a better life.

I suspect most young people rallying around the NDC are “floating voters”. Hopefully, they were able to get their names on the voters’ list in time to cast their ballot. They clearly see hope in Dickon Mitchell, not just because he is relatively young, but also because he speaks about a new Grenada with passion and easily connects on an emotional level.

Voter perception of weak, uninspiring leadership undoubtedly was a major contributor to the NDC’s flagging fortunes since the mid-1990s, especially the three “green washes” inflicted on the NNP. That perception continued to dog the NDC even while in government between 2008 and 2013.

Like a “deus ex machina” which would suddenly appear in an ancient Roman theatrical play and fix a seemingly unsolvable problem, the meteoric rise of charismatic Dickon Mitchell from relative political obscurity has re-energised the NDC’s base and the country in a few short months.

Enthusiastic public response to the NDC’s new leader obviously caught the NNP by surprise. In their complacency, they no doubt had initially dismissed him as no serious threat. Now they are clearly worried. While the NDC enjoys a psychological advantage over the NNP with just one more week of campaigning to go, it should take nothing for granted.

Though they serve as a good yardstick of voter support, a general election is ultimately determined, not so much by massive crowds at political meetings or the size of motorcades, but by a winning party outdoing its competitors in the effectiveness of its GOTV organisation on polling day.

In the jargon of modern political practice, GOTV stands for “get out the vote”. A party knowing who and where its committed voters are and ensuring that they don’t just promise to vote but actually do so.

As a seasoned campaigner , the NNP obviously understands the numbers game and may have an advantage over the NDC in this regard. It will seek, no doubt, to pull out all the stops to ensure re-election even by a small margin on June 23. To bring home the bacon, the NDC must begin as of now to put all the necessary arrangements in place for an effective election day GOTV to ensure it is not outdone.

To be leading the race, only to be pipped at the wire, would be nothing short of utterly devastating for the NDC leadership and supporters. As the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed! At this stage, I give the edge to the NDC which, to win, must take at least 8 seats with a possible two or three more, depending on the final swing.

Reudon Eversley is a former CANA Director of News and Current Affairs who has extensively covered Caribbean politics since the 1980s. Based in Barbados, he is also a certified political strategist, having graduated with straight A’s from Carleton University with a Master of Political Management (MPM) degree. Email: [email protected]