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Time for sober heads

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04.FEB.11

St. Vincent and the Grenadines seems to be moving along a dangerous path. The protests by the Opposition outside Parliament last Friday over the passage of two pieces of legislation took us into the realm of high volatility. One careless match, proverbially, and we could have had a veritable social explosion, with grave consequences socially, politically, and physically as well.{{more}}

The spectacle of one former Parliamentarian virtually storming the gates of the Parliament yard and the inflammatory remarks made by some current members of parliament were disappointing to say the least.

As we go to press, both mass political parties are busy drumming up support among their supporters for a picket of the Parliament next week Tuesday, when the amendment to the Representation of the People Act will be considered.

Is it the wisest course of action to have supporters of both parties in such close proximity with each other, especially bearing in mind what happened last week?

Somehow, it seems as if the Opposition is bent on copying the so-called “Road Block Revolution” of 2000. It matters not that the context is different, as is the balance of forces politically.

It was alleged, erroneously, just prior to the debate on the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code last week, that the ULP came to power by extra-Parliamentary means. Thus, it seems to be felt that the Opposition is justified in using unconventional methods to propel itself into power. This flawed line of thinking is fraught with danger and can only help to erode democracy and the rule of law.

It may well be that the tumultuous events being played out in the Arab world are serving the purpose of emboldening some on the Opposition benches and feeding the tendency to recklessness, but it is important that we all take stock of the direction in which we are heading. We cannot afford to let lawlessness and disrespect for the institutions of governance prevail over good sense. The right to oppose, to demonstrate and to express dissatisfaction is an important one which must be safeguarded. But in doing so, we should always act with restraint and maturity.

It is only natural, however, that the Opposition would protest against the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, especially since the route of private criminal complaints was recently used by them to bring charges against government ministers.

The action by the Government in amending the Code can, therefore, be interpreted as self-seeking. This is to be expected, even though there is merit in the explanations offered by the Government for the amendments. But the ordinary citizen questions the timing. In the current political climate, does the amendment at this time lend to professed efforts at reconciliation? Does it not have the effect of adding fuel to fire?

It does not help either when arguments, supposedly on the grounds of preservation of democratic rights, conveniently ignore the fact that the right to challenge any decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the High Court remains and has not been “taken away”. One may question whether what the Government calls the abuse of the privilege of taking private criminal charges directly to the magistrate justifies the amendments, but the whole story must be told. Similarly, it is reasonable to ask whether some public debate and decision ought not to have taken place before such an amendment.

As it is, SEARCHLIGHT can only appeal to all to let good sense prevail. We run the risk of leading our people into internecine political strife. Let us not go down that road.

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