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What do we do now?

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30.DEC.10

Editor: Less than 1,100 persons shy of half the voting population decided on December 13 to support the New Democratic Party. And given that we elect governments by the number of seats won, had 80 more persons in Central Leeward voted for Norrell Hull instead of Maxwell Charles, Arnhim Eustace would most likely have been SVG’s prime minister today.{{more}} The purpose of the foregoing statement is not to argue any case in favour of the NDP but rather to emphasize the point that our present system and practice of parliamentary democracy may effectively disenfranchise half the voting population for a period of five years, unless a legal or legitimate reason presents itself beforehand.

The leader of the Opposition says that he is going to keep the fire burning in the house of assembly and his seven elected members plus two appointed senators will give the 12 members of the government side hell. No matter how deep we descend into and beyond purgatory, the government remains the government, as the majority of the electorate decided that it should so be. It is within the Opposition’s purview to whip up public sentiment on certain issues as well as challenge the Government to provide answers on governance matters and actions, but the Opposition remains what it is – opposition and not government.

Surely, we are too small to have half of the country shut out (or shut itself out) from the corridors of government broadly defined. A dialectical stand-off may propel progress in class-divided developed countries and in economies where commerce is not so dependent on a paternalistic central government. But we are too small to have our energies sapped by perpetual antagonism (from both sides). We are too small to have the full use of our intellectual and material resources stymied by the way we have been governed historically. There should indeed be institutionalised mechanisms for a more meaningful participation in parliament, for effective separation of the executive and the legislature, for reduced powers of the prime minister, for increased powers to the leader of the opposition, for greater popular involvement through civic society channels, and for a more integrated approach to governance. Although we voted no to such reform, change is still necessary and I hope that “We like it so” will not forever be our prevailing mantra.

So what do we do now? Prime Minister Gonsalves has made a pitch to reach out to the opposition by extending the proverbial olive branch. Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, has repeatedly called for a kinder and gentler society. I believe that there are several extra-parliamentary measures or projects where government, opposition and civic society can work together without bucking the supreme law of the land. For instance, we all now say that we should proceed to develop the international airport at Argyle. Let us work together to make it a reality. In a spirit of national unity on the largest national project in our history, let a bipartisan but pragmatic approach manifest itself. And if we are all confident about generating large numbers of jobs, particularly through foreign direct investment, let us then work together to create these jobs in the interest of all Vincentians. Yes, man, bring your investors and come. With regard to who takes or deserves the credit, an astute and discerning electorate will decide five years hence.

J. Providence

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