Last Tuesday, Nomination Day for the impending elections, I saw something courtesy Facebook that was pleasing to my
soul. After filing his nomination papers in Layou, Ben Exeter, the NDP candidate vacated the building, saw his opponent awaiting his turn, went over, hugged, and shook hands with him and hugged others of the opposing party.
Brewster responded with the same degree of civility. Some persons who were with Exeter also indulged in some bantering with the other side. I could not believe it! There is certainly hope, I thought! But then it was not long after that a more sordid side of our political culture reared its ugly head. I refer to the stoning of supporters of the NDP who were celebrating with their candidate Nature Stephenson. Gunshots accompanied the stoning and startled the massive crowd.
This is serious business and something that must not be tolerated, especially at a time when the political campaign is heating up. Things can easily get out of hand. We have had experiences in the past of damages caused by the stoning of opponents. Both leaders need to immediately denounce what happened and let their followers know that they are not prepared to tolerate such disgraceful behaviour. I know that Dr Friday of the Opposition party made a statement, reacting to what transpired. I suspect that the Prime Minister will do likewise.
It was only a few days before that the Christian Council had published its “Code of Ethical Political Conduct” that will guide both parties as they step up their political campaigns. I am not sure how the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism functions and what teeth it has. I hope that what we have is more than a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, whatever that means in today’s world. The document touches some of the issues that normally surface during a political campaign. One of the clauses warned against the use of bribes or gifts-giving to gain political advantage. What happens if this is not observed and how do they monitor it? Equal and fair access to national or public venues for holding political meetings or equal and fair free time on the National Broadcasting Corporation should be easily monitored but what are the penalties for failure? Unless the monitoring mechanism is working efficiently and there are penalties involved then the Code of Conduct means little and will not be taken seriously.
The Code of Conduct has made a late appearance, coming almost as an afterthought, when a number of the clauses had already been violated. Really, issues addressed in the Code of Conduct should be a normal part of our political culture and operation. The Opposition party in parliament is part of the government of the country and therefore should in the normal course of things have access to the national radio and to public venues for their activities. The Code should not be something that comes out just before elections.
In my last column I asked about Covid protocols covering the elections in this Covid-19 environment. When I wrote that column we were ‘covid free’. Since then, as at the time of writing, we have four active cases. I note that recently the Prime Minister said that protocols covering the elections are being considered. The Supervisor of Elections assured us elections would be held in a Covid environment, suggesting that the necessary precautions will be put in place. Obviously, these will be addressed in the protocols. At the time of writing I have heard nothing to suggest that these have been finalised and put in place. It is already late with large crowds turning out to election rallies. We have heard that the positive cases are in full quarantine and that they are doing the necessary tracing, but I repeat what I said before that we have always to be on our guard and put the necessary measures in place.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian