Election fever has hit the globe as political leaders and ordinary citizens wait with breathless anticipation for the official announcement on who will be the next president of the United States of America (USA).
As the days have passed since the November 3 poll, it appears likely that former Democratic Vice President Joseph Biden will take the presidency from Republican incumbent Donald Trump, relegating him to America’s first one-term leader since George Bush Snr. in the early 1990s.
Here in the region, we have seen the return of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves for his fifth term as leader of St Vincent and the Grenadines. This now puts Gonsalves in a category all of his own with his track record of successive electoral victories.
Here at home, constituents of St George North are gearing up to cast their votes next Wednesday in what has been an unexpected mid-term chess move by Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
If predictions hold true, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) general secretary cum Barbados Labour Party (BLP) politician Toni Moore, is expected to carry the seat despite the positive showing expected from Democratic Labour Party newcomer and national and regional sportsman Floyd Reifer.
In all this, we must not allow the apathy that has enveloped most of our activities in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to cause us to undervalue the importance of exercising our franchise.
As we focus attention on the issue of voter participation, we may consider what a change of administration in the USA could mean for us in the Caribbean? The truth is that since the much vaunted Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), this region has been off the radar of our friends up North.
Except for the sudden interest in the massive oil find in the South American and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) state of Guyana, the Americans have limited their concerns to matters of security. And even that area has been shaped by US’ concern with the region’s use as a gateway for narcotics from South and Central America to the US.
Among the few occasions when the current Trump administration looked to our group of small states situated in their backyard was the need to secure our votes at the Organisation of American States (OAS) as a basis for some action against the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela. Events have since distracted the American leadership from their plan, particularly when some CARICOM states took a non-aligned stand of non-interference.
Alicia Nicholls, writing in the online publication Caribbean Trade Law and Development put it this way: “The Caribbean never features as a major foreign policy topic in US presidential campaigns, although the Venezuela crisis and China’s growing influence in the region have caused some disquiet in Washington in recent years.
“But while the Caribbean has ebbed and flowed in its geopolitical significance to US policymakers, we in the region are frequently glued to our television sets, or in this era, smart devices, whenever US presidential election season comes around. Quite simply, we have a vested interest in who determines US government policy making.”
Ms. Nicholls correctly argued that the USA is not merely our big northerly neighbour or just a super power, the US is the Caribbean’s largest trading partner, a provider of significant, though waning development assistance, and it represents a critical source market for our tourists.
We have much vested in what happens in the United States whether we want to admit it or not. As Nicholls reinforced, America is home to the Caribbean’s biggest diaspora and thus a key source of remittances that help to sustain thousands of households and contribute to foreign exchange inflow for our vulnerable economies.
And while many in our population have become apathetic about all things party politics and politicians, the fact is that we must ensure our participation in the electoral process.
We cannot absent ourselves from the process no matter how flawed we perceive it to be and then complain about the quality of leaders who make it to high office.
It is generally accepted that younger citizens who recently acquired the right to vote and persons in low income groups tend to be under-represented at the polls. It is not by accident that people over the age of 50 tend to show up and participate at higher rates than their younger counterparts.
It is generally accepted that nonvoters feel less satisfied with the political status quo than those who actively participate in the voting process. Voting is seen by them as a rather blunt and ineffectual instrument for expressing dissatisfaction.
What we are witnessing in the United States is a clear demonstration that many nonvoters, on this occasion, have come to the realization that they needed to act if they want change to take place. Like our counterparts in the United States, let us not take our democracy for granted.