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Silly season in Antigua

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I was in Antigua over the Christmas season. A holiday season it is there, too, though perhaps not as intense as Vincy Christmas. One thing struck me, though, is that Christmas or no Christmas, holiday or no holiday, their party politics was very much to the fore. I thought we were bad in SVG where such partisan affairs are concerned, but Antigua takes the cake. From morning, the air waves ring out with political chatter and nearly every casual conversation seemed to have some political overtone.{{more}}

Well, that happens here, too. But there was more. On New Year’s morning, bright and early, there were loudspeakers from the opposition Antigua Labour Party, wishing Antiguans a happy New Year and relief from “this wicked regime (the ruling United Progressive Party). Early New Year’s morning? Then later in the day, festive season or not, it was the turn of the ruling UPP’s loudspeakers, hailing the progress supposedly made and advertising a big rally by that party on the weekend. Vincentians would not take too kindly to such interruptions on New Year’s Day.

Since politics is in the air at Christmas time, one can only imagine how the politicians responded. Trucks were going around distributing hams and turkeys and one speaker at a political rally even accused his opponents of sharing away computers. Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the Soufriere eruption here, we coined a word for such largesse-BODOW! Well, it was “bodow” like peas in Antigua. An Antiguan friend of mine even told me that one of the parties had a notice on the radio, informing those who didn’t get ham or turkey where to go to collect theirs or even to call in their address to have it delivered. God bless Christmas politics!

If you think that statement is blasphemy, then check this. I quote here from the DAILY OBSERVER, Thursday, December 11th, 2008, from a front page story, headlined “BRIBERY PRAYER”

“The diocese of the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba has distanced itself from a public statement made by Anglican Minister, the Reverend Father Charles Willock, on Thursday’s celebration of Heroes day.

“Willock, in an opening prayer at the Antigua Labour party programme, asked the Lord to let persons accept bribes. “Make them go forward with strength and determination regardless of what bribes are given. We ask you Lord to let them take the bribes and vote them out.”

I remember that in 1979, the then opposition UPM had coined the slogan “Eat dem out, Drink dem out, Vote them out,” but coming from a priest this one is a real shocker. So much so that the Anglican Church has sought to dissociate itself from the statement. Anglican Bishop Errol Brooks called Willock’s prayer’ misguided and not in accordance with bibically, faithful Anglican teaching and practice.” He also said that the Anglican diocese “in no way supports anyone making or receiving bribes,” pointing out that the Bible condemns the taking of bribes.

Bishop Brooks quoted Exodus 23:8: “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the word of the righteous.” Thus, taking a bribe is “unethical,” he said, and to encourage a person not to keep their word (to vote for the person or party offering the bribe) is dishonest for “a person’s word is his bond.”

Unethical, dishonest or whatever name you call it, bribery has become as institutional in the Caribbean as the holding of the poll itself. Sure, there are laws against it, but who is going to enforce them if most of us uphold the practice? Our politicians hypocritically accuse each other of handing out bribes while surreptitiously, or even openly, cynically indulging in the very same practice. Some of us accept, others are ashamed to do so openly but secretly wish the bribes could be quietly “delivered,” and the rest of us turn a blind eye.

It was very much a part of the comical exercise into which, very often, elections in the Caribbean degenerate. It fits in with the emphasis on entertainment, not education at mass rallies and meetings. It merely helps to bring out the selfish side of voters, in voting for who can give you material gifts either during the campaign or rewards after attaining office. That is why some political commentators dub the elections season as the “SILLY SEASON,” for we tend to become transformed from rational individuals to irrational self-seekers.

Such behaviour is not going to change overnight, no matter how some of us may so desire. But at least we can take steps in that regard by meaningful constitutional and electoral reform, the passage of integrity legislation and most of all by a determined effort to raise the levels of political, social and moral consciousness.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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