The sinister side of modern elections
One of the basic tenets of western democracy is the right to choose one’s government, as exercised in elections. It is considered so fundamental that while there are many other aspects of the democratic exercise, people are so sold on elections that many are prepared to fight and die for this right.
In the Caribbean and our country in particular, many have been the battles, in court but also in a physical sense, that have been fought over general elections. Ever since the introduction of party politics here, many have been the elections hotly contested, not only on the hustings, but in petitions before the courts subsequently.
One feature of our electoral system has been the fierce campaigning. Indeed so intense does the competition become that some political commentators describe the pre-election campaigning as the “silly season”. That is based largely on the antics, wild promises and clownish behaviour of persons who one would normally consider to be of sound mind. Elections seem to bring out, not the best, but more often the worst in most of us.
However, as the stakes are raised, while the silliness is still with us, there are far more sinister aspects to our elections of which we should be very concerned and worried. We refer to the spectre of outside interference in our electoral process and the possibility of its manipulation to serve the interests of a few, rather than the broad majority of Vincentians. This is facilitated by the lack of regulation and control of campaign financing and the subsequent influence of those who invest in campaign financing hoping for handsome rewards should those whom they back emerge winners.
It is not a phenomenon unique to St Vincent and the Grenadines, nor the wider Caribbean. So grave is the threat considered in this age of modern technology that a country as large and as wealthy as the USA has found itself consumed with finding out to what extent was the outcome of its last presidential elections determined by external forces.
There is great irony in such a concern, given the record, globally, of the USA in interfering with and trying to influence the outcome of general elections in countries far and wide. Guyana, in 1953 and Jamaica, 1980, are perhaps the outstanding examples in the region, but that external hand has been felt, in one way or another when a threat to external domination and the rule of the rich is perceived.
On Sunday of this week, Prime Minister Gonsalves detailed, quoting from whistleblower sources, how our own democracy is being subverted by foreign elements seeking to ensure a pliable client regime subservient to their wishes. The allegations are serious indeed and warrant not only investigation and vigilance on our part but also every effort to ensure that persons planning to manipulate our electoral system and unduly influence voters by means far from fair do not succeed. We live in a technological world in which those with the resources can gain unfair advantage and seek to subsume the lofty aspirations of our people to selfish interests. We must seek to bolster the integrity of our democratic system and rebuff those with such nefarious aims.