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Women Making Their Presence Felt
By Peter Richards, IPS, 23 December 1998
ST. GEORGE'S, Dec 23 (IPS) - As the date for the next general election draws near, political observers here are saying that as candidates and voters, women in Grenada seem to hold the keys to the outcome of that poll and there is the likelihood that one could emerge as the country's next Prime Minister.
The three major political parties, including the incumbent New National Party (NNP) have all included women candidates in the race for the 15 constituencies at stake.
"Internationally we observed that increasingly the gender vote is a deciding factor as to which political party wins general elections," says Derek Ramsamooj, a political analyst with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Development Syndicate Ltd.
Ramsamooj who is here conducting an independent public opinion poll, has observed general elections in a number of regional states including St. Lucia and Guyana.
"Women at all the various socio-economic levels influence voter choice within the household. Political parties in Grenada should pay special attention on this important voter bank, especially, the young professional and middle management women," he adds.
Political observers also note that women are likely to place special emphasis on employment creation, cost of living, health and any other programme that enhances their empowerment.
In the last general election women voters outnumbered their male counterparts in all five constituencies, and where they failed to do so, the margin between the two was insignificant.
The future voting pattern is not likely to change soon. The latest population census done almost a decade ago showed that women outnumber men five to one.
The official report on the Grenada General Elections of 1995, noted that women voters accounted for 51.1 percent of the total 44,090 votes cast.
In that election no fewer than seven women faced the electorate with two of them being successful.
Grace Duncan, a businesswoman won the St. John's seat receiving 1,720 votes compared to 1,032 for her closest rival Herbert Preudhomme, in a five-way race. Preudhomme has since taken over the leadership of the opposition Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) after the death of its founder and leader, the charismatic and controversial former Prime Minister Eric Gairy. Duncan is now a member of that party.
Joan Purcell, a social worker, who has the opportunity of writing herself into the history books becoming the first female Prime Minister should the New Democratic Congress (NDC) emerge victorious in the Jan. 18, polls, was the other woman candidate who comfortably defeated five other candidates. In the 1995 elections. She polled 765 votes.
The ruling NNP has included three women in its slate of 15 candidates. The Executive Director of the Grenada Save the Children Development Agency (GRENSAVE), Brenda Hood, who has lived and worked in Canada for a number of years, will join with three others, Claris Charles, a former school teacher and trade unionist, Clarice Modeste an optometrist and Laurina Waldron, a former educator.
The NDC, which has announced a "limited co-operation" with the other two opposition parties will be led into the polls by Purcell and has Ingrid Jackson, the Programme Administrator of Good Hope, an organisation dealing with young people here, as its other woman candidate.
The United Labour Front which groups the two other opposition parties has named Duncan as its sole female candidate. Duncan was dismissed from Keith Mitchell's cabinet on the grounds that she had leaked outcome of cabinet discussions.
While she has vigorously denied the allegations, she told the media that senior party officials had attempted to woo her back into the NNP, but they were offering a post lower than her ministerial one.
"It would be an insult to me and my supporters," she said on radio here last weekend.
The Good Old Democracy Party (GOD) whose ambitious plans for Grenada, have been described by many political pundits as "unbelievable" is itself putting up women candidates for the polls.
Its three female candidates, all businesswomen, Grace Richards, Eunice Belfon-Thomas, and Michelle Goodings, will be facing the electorate for the first time.
Grenada's snap election, the fourth since the U.S. led intervention in 1983, was called by Mitchell, three-and-a-half years into the first term of his administration after his Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Fletcher resigned.
His resignation was followed by the defection to the opposition benches of Duncan, a former Health Minister. The NNP had enjoyed a slim one-seat majority in Parliament.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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