We will be forty-one
Next Tuesday our country will celebrate the 41st anniversary of the reclamation of its national Independence on October 27, 1979. We are still, relatively speaking a young nation but should now be beginning to exhibit the signs of our growing maturity and gelling as a nation. Can we say that is the case?
One week after Independence, Vincentians go to the polls to exercise their franchise in choosing a government to lead us for the next five years. It will be the tenth such election since Independence, five of which have been a straight fight between the two contending parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Unity Labour Party (ULP). The intensity of the competition between these forces has led to much overhype as to the importance of each contest. We even had one being described as “the mother of all elections” while this time around, the November 5 poll is being dubbed as “the most important ever” since Independence.
The reality is that it all depends on what we make of it. Each election provides an opportunity for reinforcing our national Independence, for consolidating national unity, for respecting the choice of the electorate and then banding together for the good of the entire country. It is a task which we have handled with mixed success, our political partisanship often coming in the way of our patriotism.
From 1979 when Independence came in the wake of the volcanic eruption of La Soufriere, right until today we have had a number of challenges ranging from a succession of natural disasters to an increasingly hostile international climate which presents formidable obstacles to national development. It is fair to say that whatever disagreements we might have about the pace and content of our national development, we have not done too badly over these years. The challenge is to deepen and broaden our progress and in particular to make provisions for a young, ambitious population as we move forward.
For most of our post-independence period, we have had two main parties contesting for national leadership, but is such a system and the current constitutional constraints best for meeting the challenges of the 21st century? How best can we deepen democracy while providing scope for the greater involvement of our people? How can we balance the fierce competition engendered by our two-party system with the need for greater inclusion, tolerance of views and opportunities for all our people without the hamstring of party affiliation?
While undoubtedly our two major parties will continue to play a role there must be opportunity for the meaningful involvement of non-partisan Vincentians and for respecting the views of those who might not agree with the views of whatever government is in power. Governments must respect both the Constitution as well as agreements with non-governmental bodies, such as trade unions.
Huge developmental challenges lie ahead. We can only successfully confront these if we learn to harness the potential of our people and not let petty partisan politics exclude the contribution of those outside “the tribe”.
Have a peaceful and thoughtful Independence!