by Keith Ventour
Some sections of our Nation have received the new NDC political leader and, by extension, the new NDC executive with profound exuberance, excitement and expectations.
To put the current resurgence in the NDC into proper historical context we need to go back to the 1990s. It is well known that for some time the NDC has been in a state of disarray and disorganisation.
In the 1990 election, the Nicholas Brathwaite-led NDC was able to secure 7 seats with GULP candidate Edzel Thomas crossing the floor to help form the first NDC government. The actual results were NDC 7 seats, GULP 4 seats, NNP 2 seats, and the Ben Jones TNP 2 seats.
The 1995 elections saw the emergence of Keith Mitchell’s leadership when the NNP won outright with 8 seats and formed the first NNP government with Dr Mitchell as Prime Minister. The results were NNP 8 seats, NDC 5 seats and GULP 2 seats. It was in this period that the NDC’s leadership problems began under the well loved and respected educator, George Ignatius Brizan who was later succeeded by Joan Purcell.
The next 4 years saw the demise of the NDC and the rise of a shrewd politician in Dr Keith Mitchell, and a dominant political party in the NNP. The election results from 1990 to 1999, show that NNP was able to move its votes from 6,916 in 1990 to 25,897 in 1999. This represents a massive 274% increase or 18,981 votes. On the contrary, NDC lost 3,241 votes, declining from 13,637 to 10,396 votes, a drop of 22%.
The 1999 elections resulted in the first 15-0 defeat of the NDC. The Joan Purcell-led NDC was decimated! They only contested 12 of the 15 seats and captured just 25.1% of the ballots cast to the NNP’s 62.5%. The party leadership was incapacitated and demoralised.
Following this period Grenada saw the first of 2 rebirths of the NDC. With the likes of Peter David, Nazim V Burke, George Prime, and the late Dr David Lambert, all products of the 1970s anti-Gary struggles, the NJM and the Grenada Revolution. A new life, new vigour, new energies and expectations were injected into this DORMANT group. The party now became a kaleidoscope of individuals of diverse ages, interests, and aspirations, coupled with similarly diverse political and intellectual backgrounds. In hindsight, I may say, the party was doomed to fail because, in practice, it became an ALLIANCE of several trends and factions united in one common purpose, the defeat of Dr Keith Mitchell.
What happened in the ensuing 4 years was an unprecedented comeback. This was due to the hard, gruelling work put in by those individuals in rebuilding the party structures and going on the ground in the villages to meet and discourse with the people. They brought to the NDC their strong organisational skills and experience from before and during the Grenada Revolution. They led the mass mobilisation of support for the NDC.
I must say, Tilman Thomas became the natural successor by default, to Joan Purcell. Despite some inherent weaknesses, he was able to command internal party support and respect. This made him into the spiritual centre of the party, in holding the new coalition forces together and at the same time having a national appeal. The result of the 2003 elections was a defining moment in the character of these two leaders and ultimately that of their political parties. Keith Mitchell’s NNP amassed 8 seats while Tilman Thomas’ NDC won 7 seats. It was the closest election in our history with the NNP crossing the tape by a mere 7 ballots in the constituency of Carriacou & Petite Martinique.
More significantly, this has been the ONLY occasion in our political history that the NNP LOST votes. 3,331 LESS ballots were cast for the NNP than in 1999. A 13% reduction in its mass base. On the other hand, NDC more than DOUBLED its votes, moving from 10,396 to 21,445!
Between 2003 and the 2008 elections, NDC consolidated and further enhanced its gains from the previous election amassing just over 29,000 votes. The “Wind of change” which began in 2003 swept through the country in 2008. The result was NDC increasing its vote by 35% and securing an impressive 11-4 seats landslide victory; the only time it had ever won an election outright, to form the government on its own.
Notwithstanding this decisive 2008 victory, there are a few observations to be highlighted.
- It was the first time the NDC was able to secure more than one seat in the Parish of St Andrew, winning 3 seats
- It was the first and only time ever that the NDC received more than 24,000 votes, actually 29,007
- Many saw this as overwhelming support for the NDC but this was undoubtedly an anti-Keith Mitchell vote
- Despite its loss, the NNP still gained 4,622 ballots (a 20% increase in its votes) to narrow the difference in the popular vote to 1,818, a small 3.2% margin. Actual votes received were 27,189
- It is absolutely clear that without the active support and assistance of the Left, it was impossible for the NDC to rebuild and triumph between 2000 and 2008
Many characterised the winning of the 2008 elections as a mini 13 March 1979. Persons from all walks of life came out to celebrate the NDC victory.
However, with the victory at the polls, and the seat of power thus achieved, the aforementioned diverse interests and aspirations came alive. There began a jostling for control of power and policy among the Left and other forces within the NDC. The focus was lost; the vision and the mission disappeared. It was like déjà vu again.
The unfortunate infighting which emerged, led to the infamous 2012 expulsions of leading Left members and others who played key roles in rebuilding and reorganizing the party, and leading it to victory in 2008. Their supporters withdrew from the party, and the NDC lost most of its skilled and experienced cadres, resulting in a reduction of 6,621 votes (23% from 2008), and a humiliating loss of all seats at the 2013 poll.
NDC has never recovered since then, with a consecutive 0-15 loss at the 2018 ballot. On the other hand, simultaneously, the NNP has consistently increased its votes crossing the 30,000 threshold in 2013 and 2018, winning almost 60% of the popular vote on both occasions. It may be worth noting that in 2003, the popular votes were split down the middle between the 2 parties NNP and NDC, 48% and 45% respectively. In other words, if George Prime had won the Carriacou and Petite Martinique constituency by the same 7-vote margin of Elvin Nimrod, the NDC would have won the election not having received the majority of popular votes. Likewise, in 2008 the popular votes were again symmetrical between the 2 parties NDC and NNP, 51% and 48% respectively.
With the second rebirth and its newfound resurgence, can the NDC reverse its last 2 defeats? My analytical guess is that the party faces a daunting task. What are the positives in NDC’s favour and what can they do to avert another crushing 0-15 defeat?
- Notwithstanding his lack of Political experience, the party has for the time being settled the ageing perception of lack of quality leadership in the person of a well-organised, articulate and confident leader in Dickon Mitchell
- The young fresh outlook of the present team can be a rallying point for voters who seek qualitative change
- There is an underlined anti-Keith Mitchell sentiment like in 2003, which permeates among large sections of the population. It is not certain whether this sentiment can become more vocal as in 2003/2008 and translate into votes for the NDC
- This is very subjective, but I strongly suggest that the young first-time voters, 18-25 years, will vote in the majority for the NDC
It is well established that the NNP party is a well-organised and “well-oiled” unit, with the experience of pulling successful back-to-back victories in 2013 and 2018. The next 3 weeks are therefore critical for the NDC party to prevent the NNP from winning another 15-0 election. NDC has to be deliberate, persistent and steadfast in going house to house on the ground to nullify the attempts of the NNP in achieving a clean sweep. In doing so, and outside a Manifesto, their messaging must instill confidence be pointed and clear, directed to 3 demographic sections of the population: the Youths, Women and Farmers.
In considering all of the above, in the absence of a “miracle”, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a political party to reverse an 18% margin (10,500) in the popular vote and, more so, on consecutive occasions. This is especially so for a party which has been fraught with Leadership problems over the past 5 years, and still without foot-soldiers possessing the necessary organisational skills and experience to effectively campaign on the ground in the villages.