HE JUNE 6 GENERAL ELECTION in St Lucia was historic for several reasons, but most important was the fact that this was the first occasion that the United Workers’ Party (UWP) prevailed in an election without founding father Sir John Compton at the helm.
This achievement should not be understated especially as the absence of Sir John was cited in some academic circles as one of the major reasons why the UWP could not prevail.
This assertion was unfortunate because it ignored empirical evidence to the contrary and also avoided a contextual and historic reality that there was also a time when a black man or white woman was unlikely to become US president. Prime Minister Allen Chastanet should therefore be heartily congratulated for securing his place in the history books of St Lucia, alongside former leaders like Sir John and Dr Anthony who also have noteworthy personal achievements.
The analysis of the recently concluded election needs to begin with a reflection on the public opinion polling conducted by CADRES in the period just prior to the election which reflected a statistical dead-heat that was a reflection of public opinion two weeks before the election. There was also at that time a clear indication that St Lucians were warming to the UWP which combined with the reality that CADRES had established since October 2015 that the desire for change was unusually high. One of the key indicators CADRES relies on determine the likelihood of a change of government is the public response to the question on change.
In the case of St Lucia in October 2015, 51 per cent wanted both a change of government and leader and by May 2016 it was 55 per cent. The missing link was therefore the popularity of the leader and it is for this reason that CADRES presented the comparative data showing the significant increase in Chastanet’s popularity.
We concluded that he and the UWP had sufficient momentum to hold all six seats they had and the focus would therefore be on the five marginal seats which we polled in the week prior to the election. These polls were never released for reasons that were presumably strategic; however, these provided convincing evidence that the UWP would prevail in the way that it did on June 6.
Polls aside, there are some interesting observations that a review of the election data would reveal and the first of these is the swing towards the UWP of 8.2 per cent which was generous and statistically beyond the two per cent that CADRES measured two-weeks prior.
It is therefore clear that the UWP’s campaign was successful in cementing the belief that it was sufficiently united to govern. In addition, the Chastanet-UWP performance on this occasion compares favourably with the other recent party performances. In 2006 Compton achieved an 11 per cent swing, while in 2011 Anthony achieved a three per cent which means Chastanet has clearly done well on this occasion.
In addition, if one were to examine the constituency performances individually, some interesting trends emerge that reflect both exhaustion with the SLP and an acceptance of the UWP. Noteworthy here is the fact that Anthony was among the worst performers in his own SLP with a negative swing of – 11 per cent which was significantly higher than that of his SLP nationally and brought him within 240 votes of losing. Comparatively Chastanet was among the better performers in his UWP with a positive swing of nine per cent which was comparable to his party at the national level.
The fact that the UWP regarded Anthony’s seat as safe and would therefore not have expended significant resources in pursuit of victory there and nonetheless performed this well, demonstrates the folly of a suggestion that the UWP “bought” the election. Instead, there was clearly a level of dissatisfaction on the ground in St Lucia to which the SLP was oblivious.
One area of disappointment relates to the voter turnout which could have been affected by the heavy rain on election day. The interim data suggests that the turnout was 55 per cent which was down: three per cent from 2011 and reflects the participation of over 1 000 fewer voters this time around.
Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org