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Our politics needs rejuvenation

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As we approach the end of the year, we also herald in the political convention season, the time when both major political parties rally their troops for their annual conventions. It usually is preceded by a lot of political speculation, many of them meaningless and having to do with perceived personnel changes. Currently, much of the focus is on the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), its leadership and selection of candidates for the next general elections.{{more}}

Constitutionally, those elections are not due until December 2020. However, the NDP continues to hold its supporters to the belief that elections are “coming soon”, following its court challenge to the results of the 2015 general elections. How realistic this is, and how long it can prove to be a mobilizing force are yet to be tested; but in the meantime, preparations for such national polls are proceeding.

It is a fallacy that the conventions of both parties are great exercises in democracy, at least as far as policy is concerned. There is little about which the public is informed as to genuine debate on policy in the closed sessions of the parties. Major policy seems to be pre-determined at leadership levels and the

conventions serve more to rally the troops for the electoral battles ahead. There is no reason to believe that 2016 will be any different.

As the NDP’s convention nears, there has been renewed speculation in the media about its leadership. In particular, the fate of Leader of the Opposition, Hon Arnhim Eustace, has again been under the spotlight. However, such speculation has led nowhere, with Mr Eustace again reiterating his position that his fate is in the hands of the party and not speculators. In addition, the man touted to be his successor, Central Kingstown MP, Hon St Clair Leacock, is dismissing the idea that he is about to challenge the leader, deflating the leadership change theory.

The continuing leadership speculation is not surprising, given the political fortunes of the NDP. If the ULP term continues until 2020, the NDP would have been in opposition longer than its record 17-year term of office, 1984- 2001. If Mr Eustace leads the party into the next general election, it will be his fifth such attempt. On the other hand, if Prime Minister Gonsalves changes his mind and again leads his troops into the electoral battle, we will be having a real geriatric contest.

For these reasons, the renewal of the parties is critical. The ULP took some steps in the last election with the inclusion of some younger candidates, tempered by the recall of veteran Hon Louis Straker. This time it is the NDP in the lead in its selection of candidates. There has been word from its camp that at least four of the candidates from 2015 are to be replaced and a selection has already been done in South Central Windward.

Yet, in both cases, Opposition and Government, one is yet to see, other than age, any distinct difference in outlook, nature of politics etc from the younger generation. There can be little doubt that our politics, dominated by many of the same persons for the past two decades, is in crying need for rejuvenation, but is it enough simply to have new faces, or do we need new approaches, a new, more participatory form of politics, a reform of the creaking political institutions? Personnel changes alone, on one side or the other, cannot be by themselves the solution.

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