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Choices for change: Choosing Parliamentarians

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Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has publicly set in train the process of choosing a successor by announcing, at a rally to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the electoral victory of his Unity Labour Party (ULP), that the next general elections would be his final joust as party leader.{{more}} Speaking in Barrouallie last weekend, he went on to state that while it would be his last as leader, he would nevertheless stay on as parliamentary representative, if elected, that is, while giving up the leadership. Of course, he couldn’t help but make a plug for a return to office, exhorting his listeners to “give the Comrade this last one.”

Gonsalves’ announcement has given renewed impetus to the speculation about his possible successor as leader of the ULP. That includes scrutiny of possible contenders, among them Foreign Minister Camillo Gonsalves, son of the Prime Minister. The younger Gonsalves has been the object of many attacks by persons in the Opposition, not for alleged sins of commission, but purely on the basis that he is the son of the PM who, it is alleged, is trying to foist him on the country, as in a dynasty. It is a pity that Senator Gonsalves is not being judged on merit as to what contribution he can make to the country and his own capabilities; but that is another matter.

Even before we speculate on who could or could not become prime minister, given the impending elections, perhaps we should pay some attention to the matter of parliamentary representation itself. On what basis should we be choosing parliamentary representation? Should we give more consideration to ability to represent the interests of the people of a particular constituency, or should the issue of how capable is that person to hold higher office be the major factor? Should we marry the two, and if so, how much weight should be given to one or the other?

These are questions which contending political parties must answer internally, as they prepare to select candidates to contest general elections. Fortunately, in recent times, the selection of candidates has become more open, if not always lucidly transparent. There are now even open contests, our own version of what are called “primaries” in the USA, to select candidates; though, politics being what it is, subterfuge is not unknown. It is a process to which we should all pay particular attention, for it is not just voting for a candidate on election day, but importantly trying to ensure that we get quality choices on polling day.

The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) had published a booklet in September 2004, as part of its contribution to the discussion on constitutional reform, which was entitled CHOICES FOR CHANGE. The title is an appropriate guide towards how we should view our selections, first as candidates, and secondly as elected representatives of the people. We can no longer afford to be entertaining candidates nor electing representatives who are not suitable vehicles for positive developmental change. We are in the 21st century, not just emerging from adult suffrage and the quality of the choices before us will have a huge bearing on the type of representation and government we get.

It is to be hoped that both parties would take their responsibilities seriously in this regard, thereby facilitating the lifting of the national game. Rabble-rousing may be useful on the hustings, but it contributes little to the enrichment of the national debate in Parliament or providing enlightened leadership. There are ambitious persons who believe that being “popular’ in a constituency is by itself enough reason for being a viable candidate and persons, with little links with people or record of service to the community, who believe that educational and professional qualification are all. We need to go further than that, as we shall see in the concluding part of this article next week.

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