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Electorial Politics – Where is the change?

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The proverbial bell has now been rung to officially open the floodgates to the 2020 election campaign. Given the COVID pandemic, this campaign is supposed to be different than those of the past according to health and safety requirements. However except for forced reliance on virtual meetings as opposed to the traditional mass gatherings, there is not much indication of distinctiveness in this campaign.

In fact one is tempted to say “same old, same old” as we notice the contesting parties literally champing at the bit, straining at the leash to get back to the old bashing. In the process we are getting close to violating even those standards that we all acknowledge as necessary in the circumstances. Campaigning is important but we need not follow Donald Trump and company.

It is sad that 70 years after gaining the universal right to vote and six and a half decades after the introduction of party politics, the basis of our electoral politics has not changed that much. We had PPP and Labour for 20 plus years and except for 1979, our elections have been fundamentally a two-horse race. Yes, there are major differences in outlook and policies between the parties of today, but our politics has not changed significantly all these years.

The biggest disappointment especially since 2001 has been the failure to transform the nature of our politics. We have witnessed positive changes in the economy, in education, in our approach to environmental matters, to foreign policy, to the delivery of health services and even in the delivery of religious instruction, but politics is still in the same old “monkey pants”. Those who study philosophy will describe this state of affairs as one where the base is changing but the old superstructure remains intact.

To a large extent this has been caused by a failure to carry out continuous political education among party members and supporters and, for short term gain, either ignoring the shortcomings of the past or even encouraging backward approaches if they appear to bring political reward.

What, except for the virtual platforms or the use of technology distinguishes this campaign from its predecessors? Take the appeals from the two contenders to the electorate for support, as an example. The manifestos will come though these are more collectors’ items these days, but the argument from one side is that “the government has been in power too long” and it is time to “try something new”. We all know from experience that “something new” is not necessarily something better. If you wish to convince people to make a change, you have to imbue confidence in the electorate in your ability to effect and maintain positive change.

On the other hand I was shocked to hear leading persons in the government, in the party which claims to be “THE change”, exhorting voters to vote for the ULP in order to reward the Prime Minister for his splendid years of service. No doubt the PM deserves recognition and applause for what he has done for our country, but that does not necessarily merit one’s vote. A lot of other factors must be taken into consideration. The British people for instance up until today consider Winston Churchill a national hero for his leadership of the country during World War 2, but that did not stop the electorate for voting against him in the election right after the war.

The party platform, leadership, performance over the years, perceived stability and capacity to effect positive change and maintain progress will all be factors in the choice. By the way, what does Dr Friday mean about the “choice being clear”? We have had the same choice before us in each election since 1994.

What would be refreshing is to hear from the leaders and their parties a frank self- assessment of their performance over the years. Are they afraid to own up to mistakes, wrong approaches, and tactical blunders? Can they not share honest appraisals of their respective parties including telling us what they have done to correct errors and weaknesses? This would indicate to us STRENGTH, not weakness, and a willingness to own up to mistakes and chart new courses. I can’t remember any of them having the courage to do so.

Those are some of the ways that we can be convinced that changes will not only be made materially, but in our style of governance and the building of democracy. It is an area to which both parties need to pay attention.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.