As the constitutionally-due date for general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines draws near, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves has made an impassioned appeal for voters to return his Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration to office.
Addressing a standing-room-only town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn Saturday night, Gonsalves said he has done his best to keep the nation’s economy afloat, despite trying economic times. General elections are constitutionally due in St. Vincent and the Grenadines by March next year.
“I’m now the longest serving prime minister, consistently, in the Caribbean,” said Gonsalves in a three-hour-long address, which included an hour for questions and answers from the audience.
“I’ve interacted with everybody. I’m offering myself one more time to lead,” added the Vincentian leader, who first took office in 2001. “I pledge to do my best.
“I know that I am not perfect,” continued Gonsalves, who, this year, is celebrating 47 years of political activism. “I know that I’ve sinned and come short of the glory of God. And I want your help in continuing to carry this country forward.”
Gonsalves – whose primary visit to New York was to address and participate in the United Nations’ Special Sustainable Development Summit on Friday and to address the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday – said he had hinted about the election date two weeks ago, based on the Scriptures.
He pointed to Philippians 4: 6-7 and Proverbs 4:9, which speak about understanding and wisdom, saying that “the actual date is in those two Scriptures.
“And, at the appointed time, it [general elections date] will be revealed,” he told the effervescent crowd of largely party supporters.
Gonsalves said, if re-elected, it will be his last five-year term as prime minister and head of the ULP, but will stay on as Member of Parliament “if the people of North Central Windward so desire.”
In alluding to the Bible, he asked voters to “help shape our future together for Labor [Unity Labor Party] Love.
“Faith is being complete by deeds, by work… but the greatest of all is love,” Gonsalves said. “Love is not sounding brass. Love is not something you talk about – they feel it, you know it, you can’t fake it. That’s something you call Labor Love.”
With “Labor Love,” Gonsalves listed seven main reasons why voters should re-elect his party.
He identified them as: People-centered vision to lift the country’s quality of life; record of accomplishments; “supremely-talented team” of candidates, with an admixture of talent and youthfulness; possession of “tried and tested”, quality leadership; kept promises to make St. Vincent and the Grenadines a better place; “profound love for St. Vincent and the Grenadines”; and hope for the country “to achieve mighty things.”
In addition, the prime minister identified several “big ticket items” for the next five years.
Among them are: Operation of the Argyle International Airport; renewable sources of energy; tourism development projects; relocation and modernization of the ports; extension and enlargement of the cruise ship berth; development of “a modern city” at Arnos Vale, site of the current E.T. Joshua Airport; establishment of an Acute Referral Hospital at Arnos Vale, as part of the current Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in Kingstown, the capital; and initiatives in fisheries and agriculture.
Despite opposition claims, Gonsalves said the Argyle International Airport will become operational before year’s end.
“When you go and see the airport, everybody will see that the airport will be operational before the end of the year,” he said, adding: “Whether the airport opens before or after the elections, the people will give me credit.”
By 2018, the prime minister said 80 percent of the nation’s electricity will be generated by hydro and geothermal energy, and that the import fuel for electricity will be decreased by $20 million through a 12-megawatt reduction plan.
He said studies are being carried out for the relocation of the port to lower Kingstown, or at the suburban Arnos Vale, and that 80 percent of modern cruise ships cannot come to the country because of the inadequacy of the current berth.
Gonsalves said studies are also being “actively” pursued for expansion of the cruise ship berth in Kingstown.
He said the modern city at Arnos Vale, on 60 acres of land, will replace the E.T. Joshua Airport, when the Argyle International Airport becomes fully operational.
He disclosed that an unidentified company in Trinidad and Tobago has already expressed interest in utilizing 20 acres of land at Arnos Vale for entertainment; and that the Washington-based World Bank has agreed to finance the Acute Referral Hospital at the Arnos Vale site.
Gonsalves said $50 million will be spent in developing a major tourist resort at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope in Central Leeward and that Kingstown will undergo a $80 million “facelift,” with a board walk and new shops.
In addition, he said yachting berths in Canouan, in the Southern Grenadines, will be expanded.
He claims that, if elected, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) will “roll back” significant strides made in airport development, education, housing, health, youth empowerment, social welfare, and sports and culture, among other things.
“The ULP has a record to run on,” Gonsalves said. “We’re running on it, not from it.”
Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Jomo Thomas, a lawyer who is contesting the South Leeward constituency for the ULP, also spoke briefly at the town hall meeting.
Thomas, who had practiced law in New York before returning home about 10 years ago, also expressed confidence that he will win his seat, and that the ULP will go on to win a fourth consecutive, five-year term.