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Our duty to inform



A major task lies ahead for those of us who are charged with the responsibility of educating our people leading up to the national referendum scheduled for November 25 of this year. The magnitude of this task became even more apparent to SEARCHLIGHT as we analysed the results of a poll conducted by this newspaper between September 21 and 24.{{more}}

The poll, using a sample of 602 potential voters, made some stark revelations about the state of readiness of these voters. The results are published in today’s edition. They indicate that two-thirds of those polled are, at this stage, not familiar with the provisions of the proposed Constitution.

From the responses, it is clear that much more needs to be done to get the public to be fully aware of the constitutional changes. This means that even though the new Constitution Bill has been widely circulated, published as a free pull-out in all of this country’s newspapers, many persons have still not read or do not understand the text.

These findings undoubtedly provide support for those who argue that the voters are not yet “ready” or equipped to make a conscious vote, one way or the other. Ironically though, the poll indicates that, well-informed or not, more than 50% of all eligible voters are likely to cast their ballots on November 25. In other words, there are factors, other than having a clear grasp of the choices, which can determine the result of the poll. This can be attributed to the fact that political leanings are likely to influence voters to go out and vote on the day of reckoning.

Pollster, Dr. Tennyson Joseph of the University of the West Indies, says that this is because the constitutional reform process has now become a “partisan political issue” rather than a national one. This, he claims, is in a large way responsible for what people claim is a lack of understanding of the issues. He has expressed disappointment with this partisan political turn of events saying that, “it is a kind of very partisan petty political approach that we have in doing our business in the Caribbean, which we, as a people, need to overcome”.

This paper is on record as deploring any partisan political approach to this fundamental issue of political and constitutional reform. Such an approach leads to a campaign based on emotionalism and in all too many cases, misinformation. It is truly amazing to hear people expressing preferences based on hearsay and rumour including such nonsense as: there will be no more elections; the dollar will be devalued; we will need visas to travel to the United Kingdom; our young people will no longer be able to serve in the British army; we will no longer be part of the British Commonwealth; St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be communist; the age of consent will be lowered.

On the other side of the debate, the view is being advanced by some that once the CCJ becomes our final court of appeal, the death penalty for murderers will be automatic.

Ridiculous as these may seem, for the misinformed they have become real issues which must be addressed. That is a task not only for the political parties but one which requires the involvement of the whole of civic society. Churches, trade unions, service clubs, community groups, sports groups have a responsibility to their memberships. Every effort must be made to ensure that even though all the people will never read every line, chapter and verse of the proposed Constitution, the major provisions and implications are explained.

It is not too late; we still have seven weeks to go before referendum day. We should be encouraged by the fact that the poll also showed that many people who are, at this stage, not inclined to vote, would be willing to do so if they were better informed. We must not shirk our national duty. Let the misinformation end and the education process begin.