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We have to be much more careful and responsible

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The Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has launched a robust response to the move by the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) to put its electoral machinery in motion in preparation for impending general elections. Though it is possible that elections could conceivably be held as late as 10 months’ time, both parties are making ready.

Just a few weeks after the ULP’s Convention, dubbed its “last” before the elections, the NDP responded with a mass meeting at its Sion Hill stronghold, in the East Kingstown constituency of which Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace is the current Parliamentary representative.{{more}}

The stage now seems set for a heated, and perhaps prolonged campaign as these bitter rivals battle it out for the sixth consecutive time, if we include the constitutional referendum of November 2009. For the sake of our country and its democracy, one can only hope that the campaign will be kept clean and violence-free, with an emphasis on issues and programmes, rather than personal attacks which can sometimes impugn the integrity of persons and institutions.

Those concerns are quite real especially in view of the tendency towards degeneration in comments on radio and via the social media, by not only party supporters but political figures who ought to be far more responsible in their public utterances. One particular concern must be the need to uphold the integrity of those institutions responsible for maintaining law and order and the conduct of elections.

Recently, allegations of double-voting in the last general elections, made by the Opposition Leader came close to questioning the integrity of the office of the Supervisor of Elections. These allegations were made on radio and followed up by a formal letter from Mr Eustace to the Supervisor, requesting a meeting with the Supervisor.

To her credit, the Supervisor, while admitting to being “perturbed” by the public allegations, and the failure to seek clarification from her Office, before making such potentially inflammatory charges, agreed to meet with Opposition representatives. Given the serious nature of the charges, one would have thought that the Opposition Leader would avail himself of the opportunity to meet with the Supervisor in person. Instead a three-member delegation which included NDP Chairman Dr Linton Lewis, took up the Supervisor’s invitation and met with her team last Thursday.

There, “the plot thickens”, as is said in literary circles. Reports on this meeting are contained on page one and three of this issue which we encourage our readers to peruse fully. It is amazing to learn that Dr Lewis claimed neither to have heard the allegations on radio made by his Leader nor to have seen newspaper reports on the same or even the correspondence between Mr Eustace and the Supervisor. Yet he was representing the party in discussions on the matter?

From our observations at the meeting, the NDP delegation seems to have been satisfied with the clarification of the Supervisor and staff. One can only hope that this would lead to a greater degree of public responsibility in making statements on such politically volatile issues and the absolute need to uphold the integrity of the office of the Supervisor of Elections and the electoral system.

There are grave dangers, especially in the context of election results being close, in implanting in the minds of supporters, unfounded suspicions about the fairness of the system and its administrators. We have to be much more careful, and responsible.

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