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Lessons to learn from election 2005

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EDITOR: I want to see election 2005 as a part of a process in which we are maturing as a nation. I want to see it as a phase in our political history. I want to see it as the unraveling of historical forces in a process where we continue to define ourselves as a community of people striving toward a free society, a society where conflict is equitably resolved. Social optimism is my only choice of lens in my quest to understand 2005 and the opportunities it has delivered and the lessons it has reinforced. {{more}}

Each election should serve to open up new paths toward individual, community and national progress and to strengthen initiatives and processes that have demonstrated their effectiveness. There is much to lose when election contributes to generating more divisiveness and negative energy fields.

Election 2005 has brought us gifts. Difficult situations and problems usually provide us also with the opportunities to address and resolve them.

Election 2005, amidst all the negatives, presents us with two major gifts or opportunities to decisively address two critical issues. Firstly, it provided us the opportunity to establish an independent electoral system and to clean up the national electoral list. Secondly, it could serve to ensure we move closer to genuine democracy. These two gifts must be cherished and used for the nation’s progress.

Two things have happened that signal the will to use the gifts or opportunities to transform our democracy into something more responsive.

The NDP and the ULP have promised the people of SVG that they will seek to reform both the electoral and representational processes. On one hand is the NDP’s drive to see justice done for its candidates and to correct the election irregularities so that the electoral system becomes fairer, freer, more transparent and accountable. On the other hand is the declaration by the Prime Minister that all elected officials should meet their constituents every week and also report to them every quarter.

This election showed once again that we need to ensure that we put an end to secrecy surrounding campaign financing, character assassination based on mischief, slander, half-truths and political divisiveness. Furthermore, it demonstrated the urgent need to correct all inadequacies of our electoral system. It also forces one to question and debate the usefulness of spending so much energy, time, and resources on huge entertainment election campaign rallies.

The political system which governs the lives of Vincentians in no small way impacts on economic and social development. It is for this reason that the issue of campaign finance should not escape scrutiny and we should revisit its sources, role and place in good governance. Its impact on the democratic process should also be examined. How does the electorate know that political parties are not funded by forces that are in opposition to the interests of the nation? How do Vincentians know that those who paid the piper will not call the tunes?

If we are concerned about public good provided by the political system with a critical role played by political parties either in opposition or in government, and if we want to ensure there is equality in the national democratic process, should we not consider public funding for political parties?

The first-past-the-post electoral system again has revealed one of its major deficiencies. The legislative seats in parliament do not fully reflect the popular vote. The NDP, for example, got 45 per cent of the votes but ended up with 3 seats in parliament and 2 senatorial positions.

The ULP with 55 per cent of the votes got 12 seats in parliament and 4 senatorial positions.

Again our parliament would be without representation from workers, farmers, civil society organizations, women, youth, disabled, unemployed and the elderly. Our interests would continue to be represented only by political parties even if they are not the only forces or institutions responsible for the stability and development of the nation. The constitutional reform initiative will have to provide a way to address this deficiency.

All these are challenges that election 2005 have reminded us about. We have seen and heard enough negativity during the election campaign. But in the post-election phase we also have been blessed with gifts and opportunities by election 2005 to revisit the same old problems hindering the democratic creativity of the people. Let us make use of these opportunities to deepen the development of the democratic process in SVG. Election 2005, despite the divisiveness that accompanied you, I still say thank you for giving the nation these precious gifts or opportunities to make SVG a better place for all its citizens.

Maxwell Haywood

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