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A mature approach to election issues needed

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As the ULP government comes closer to the end of its fourth successive term in office and, inevitably, general elections draw nearer, electoral issues and affiliations, real or imagined, cloud our every word and action.

Each post in the social media is viewed from the perspective of party affiliation, what colour one wears, even where one shops or with whom you converse regularly comes under partisan political scrutiny. It is as if we are recalling the words of the once popular song, “Every breath you take, every move you make… I’ll be watching you”.

Yes, we are already being consumed by election fever. Even some of our prominent media persons are busy with their speculations and predictions on the outcome of the next elections. Many have trod this path before, not always with glorious outcomes or memories.

Yet there are fundamental issues related to the conduct of the elections which can have a significant bearing on the outcome of those elections. Recently for instance there was an exchange of letters between Father Michael Stewart of the Christian Council, which has in recent elections taken the lead on election monitoring locally, and Prime Minister Gonsalves. Nothing in those letters suggest a meeting of minds on pre-election issues.
We need to pay attention since, especially if there is yet another close outcome, all kinds of charges and allegations are bound to be raised and cause contention and possible unrest afterwards. Have we not learnt from our experiences over the past two decades?

In addition to the customary complaints and allegations, this election will be fought in the context of the ongoing COVID pandemic. Even in the mighty USA the possibility, remote as it might seem, of a postponement of its November elections was mooted. How will the need to follow health regulations impact on the elections and how responsive is our system to the need for adjustments? How receptive will our electorate be to recommended changes?

When to COVID, we add the current dengue threat, then all kinds of unscrupulous persons, politicians and supporters can have a field day. Those in government will claim credit for every apparently positive action while those hoping to replace them, will do exactly the opposite. The dengue situation is the latest example, the under-stress Ministry of Health officials being accused of “dropping the ball”, ignoring the grave COVID responsibilities, all because the seat to be contested by the current Minister of Health is one of the contentious ones for the next election.

There are many other issues which are blown out of context. Take the one which has been belaboured again and again, but not resolved, concerning the absolute power of the Prime Minister to call elections at his behest. We have voted to continue with this relic of the Westminster political system, even though Britain itself has addressed and corrected it. Yet we are still moaning in the media about the timing of elections.

The ongoing process of registration of voters, including possible transfers is another issue being blown out of contention. In this regard, I want to congratulate the chief election officials for the initiative taken to reach out to and educate the electorate about this process and to clarify any possible areas of doubt. It cannot be easy to step into those shoes following the disgraceful harassment of the previous Supervisor and her staff following the 2015 elections.
That campaign of vilification had its effect not only on the personnel of the electoral department, but on the credibility of the department itself and public confidence in the conduct of our elections freely and fairly. We cannot expect to go into elections with doubt sown, with unfounded allegations of election rigging, and then expect supporters to accept close results.

This columnist has written time and again about the need for dialogue and cooperation between the two political parties on issues which if resolved can lead to agreement on contentious issues Complaints have been raised that government’s actions in the context of COVID can amount to inducements for political support, an issue raised by the Christian Council in its letter to the Prime Minister. But how do we provide a framework, not only for the upcoming elections, but for subsequent ones, to deal with such issues as well as the sore point of election financing and spending. We can’t continue to “play mas’ and ‘fraid powder”.

There are many other relevant issues, particularly in the COVID context.

For instance, voting hours, should the cut-off point continue to be 5:00 p.m. now that we have much better transportation facilities and can we adjust to earlier starts? The Parliamentarians need to address this, taking into account the views of the electorate. Importantly too, in light of COVID and dengue, how do we treat elderly citizens without exposing them to undue risks? Can they be allowed the privilege of early voting ? We must behave maturely and responsibly, setting the framework for overwhelming acceptance of our process and its outcome.

Finally, taking about democratic processes, I notice that one political entity is inviting applications for candidates to contest the elections, with minimum qualifications. Is this a forerunner to the new democracy?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.