KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who has led the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines into an alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, won a narrow victory in parliamentary elecitons Monday to keep his party in power for another five years.
His United Labour Party won just eight seats, down from 12 in the previous Parliament. The New Democratic Party increased its share to seven seats from three.
Opposition parties had hoped the islands' economic hardships would bring a change in government, although recent opinion polls gave the edge to Gonsalves and his party.
Voters across the two islands waited in long lines to determine as Gonsalves predicted he would win a third term.
The prime minister said he is best suited to lead the country of 120,000 people as it tries to rebound from the global economic slump. The 64-year-old leader touts a record of poverty reduction and improved access to education while forging deeper ties with international partners such as Venezuela and Cuba to survive a tighter budget.
Under his leadership, St. Vincent was accepted last year as a member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, a leftist bloc that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda. Chavez assembled the bloc of allies in Latin America and the Caribbean to counter U.S. influence in the region.
St. Vincent has also forged a closer relationship with Iran, which sent $7 million in aid for several local development projects in 2008.
The New Democratic Party cited an economy in poor health and argued Gonsalves has an autocratic style of leadership. The party's candidates also pledged to weaken the country's ties with Venezuela and Cuba.
A third party, St. Vincent's Green Party, fielded 13 candidates but they had not been expected to be competitive with the lineup from the two major parties.
Election supervisor Sylvia Findlay was recently quoted in a St. Vincent newspaper as saying that roughly 100,050 names were on this election cycle's list of registered voters. In 2005 elections, there were 91,033 names on the official registration list.
NDP leader Arnhim Eustace asserted at a political rally prior to the elections that 20,000 of the people on the lists were actually dead.
No one answered the telephone at the election supervisor's office Monday.
The Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community bloc both sent observer missions to monitor the elections. Preliminary results were expected early Tuesday.