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Exchange for change 2: Partisan politics

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by Adaiah J. Providence-Culzac

There is a growing recognition, even among the sternest partisans on the political fences in St Vincent and the Grenadines, that the deep-rooted partisan divide is significantly retarding the country’s development. This is not new and the political-constitutional arrangement of the first past the post system that benefits a two-party system has exasperated the situation. There seems to be a continued tradition where there is an existential notion that there is a “rule of men” rather than a “rule of law”.

Our laws and conventions are shaped by the Common law legal tradition of England. At Independence, we imported a Constitutional document with little “unique Vincentian characteristics”. Our role in shaping and developing our Constitutional framework—-these statements of rights, freedoms and liberties and the overarching laws to govern our institutions was limited. Politicians past and present, always quick to blame Westminster and the capitalist world power structure for our retarded development, are slow to bring about solutions and re-definition.

Increasingly, the public has been dismayed by the theatrical manoeuvres in Parliament, a soap opera performed by both sides of the aisle in the jostle for power and public empathy. The story of “Animal Farm” comes to mind, where the leadership provided by pig rule mirrored all that was wrong with human rule. It is still a relevant story of power politics. In essence, our acrid protests of colonial rule seem apt and relevant in today’s context of democratic politics.

Why have our leaders been reluctant to have real and meaningful change that could reduce the acrimonious political atmosphere that has pitted nephews against uncles and daughters against parents? Instead of changes in our political institutions, we have been offered up red herrings of “together now”, “reconciliation” and a “kinder, gentler society”. The new theory on the block is building a meritocratic system without an outline of how this change would take place beyond the sweet sounding rhetoric.

This writer, after much reading and comparative work, is not a pessimist to proffer that change will not come from a new government unless the change is rooted in a dismantling of our socio-economic and political institutions. Of course, new leaders, new political beings, can breathe a fresh air of revival in our psyche, but the honeymoon of a new government is met with the stark reality that governing is a myriad of complex responsibilities. The present economic system and weaknesses in the world order is an opportune time to address many of our historical defects.

Alas, at this critical juncture, no one is seriously talking change. Most eyes will be focused on the Opposition New Democratic Party as the “government in waiting”. We have not heard about the party’s policy on the implementation of the Constitutional Bill. Is it not time that term limits be introduced for the office of Prime Minister? Why has there not been a creative initiative for a rotation of leadership in the political parties? We have heard about dismantling NESDEC, but what will be the new entity to replace this body? Another issue to be addressed is the need for an Independent Upper House or Senate to civilize the debate in parliament. Are we going to put lipstick on a pig? We need to re-balance the power shared by the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. Is there a road map by the Opposition on the regional front to deal with LIAT, OECS Union, CSME and the CCJ? It is more questions than answers.

If the period of 2015-2020 is met by politicians who are unwilling to think big, change the way of doing things and seriously challenge the status quo, then a change of government will continue to be a cosmetic exercise with an afterthought for some good projects as we motor along some unknown path.

It has troubled me for quite a long time that, apart from Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves, no other politician has seriously written a paper, a presentation, a thesis or critical analysis on our present structural path. I could be wrong, but I have not seen anyone offering a thesis for a new way forward that Joe Public can scrutinize, share in the debate and contribute to new policy. The ULP government beyond Dr Gonsalves has island scholars in their midst and the NDP boasts professionals of substance over style. Moreover, unlike Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia etc where political parties have weekly lectures on matters relating to timely issues and to challenge their membership, St Vincent and the Grenadines is defunct of such maturity. The mere letter or opinion in the newspaper for the record is in short supply by the men and women entrusted with leadership in this country.

Our FM politics of radio talk show with a “cut you off” button is not the place for serious political discourse. It should not be the last stop for political information. It is laughable that newspapers are now getting their news by listening to radio talk shows. If you listen to these programs, the issues and callers are the same almost every day, unless the weather springs a sudden surprise. But, this is where our politicians take their cues. Is it so difficult to periodically consult the nurses’ association, the Chamber of Industry, student unions and other formal and informal bodies across society? Do we always have to wait for the crisis to take place in order to begin negotiation and dialogue?

Sighs! Plain Talk’s assessment that the political parties have replaced civil society as the forum for discussion and organization is an accurate one. At best, the parties are not structurally feasible to lead any meaningful national debate. Where is the ULP youth arm? What are normally the agenda items of the party groups on both sides? Are the solutions to agriculture and tourism development limited to party stalwarts? So, the question remains: “Change? Yes! But what’s in a name?”

Comments at cemsvg@gmail.com

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