Posted on

Constitutional Reform case stronger now


I ended my column last week with yet another appeal to the Opposition New Democratic Party not to try and undo all the political and constitutional progress that our people have fought for and won all these years and sacrifice such progress on the altar of political expediency. Whatever their concerns, real or imagined, about his intentions or motives, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, nor the world, does not revolve around Ralph Gonslaves. As he, the Comrade himself is fond of saying: he is but a human with strengths and weakness, possibilities and limitations. We cannot narrow down such a fundamental issue as constitutional reform to what Gonsalves wants to do or not. Mitchell, Cato and Joshua, even Mc Intosh, found it out to their political detriment.{{more}}

It is highly irresponsible for us to all reach this far along the path of constitutional reform and then balk at the last steps. Why? Gonsalves is increasing the number of seats and the new constitution does not provide for term limits for the Prime Minister. Since these are the reasons given, one can only assume that those are the grounds of principal, fundamental objection. Sadly, they amount to little more than shifting sands, not solid ground. The New Democratic Party itself had increased the number of seats in the House, but we had no fundamental constitutional reform. This is a non-issue. As for the term limits, if the new Draft Constitution is defeated by a NDP led campaign in a referendum, then the present Constitution would continue, but it does not provide for term limits. So are we opposing the draft constitution for not having term limits to keep the present one without limits? What next? A new Draft and new referendum? How ridiculous can we get?

The irony is that the NDP is itself a product of those forces which had advocated, campaigned and fought for progressive constitutional change, starting with Joshua and the NDP, through the Forum and the DFM and including Sir James Mitchell, even with his own contradictions. Indeed the NDP leadership would do well to study the lessons of history and note on the eve of independence, both Joshua and Mitchell, given the questionable credentials and motives of Cato’s Labour Party, had ended up opposing Independence. By contrast, the progressive forces in the society, while opposing many of the current provisions of the hand-me-down constitution, never backed away from independence itself. A significant difference in approach.

It is my own view that the political developments of today give even greater urgency for constitutional reform. The measures proposed may not go far enough, but they are a long step along the way and can be built upon as the society progresses. What I would like to see reconsideration being given to is the proposals which emanated from the popular consultations in widening the base of the political directorate by the inclusion of civil society personnel / representatives in Parliament. Regrettably, both sides of the House were not in favour, and a sort of compromise proposed whereby civil society persons can be asked to address Select Committees of the House on particular matters.

While an advance, the reality is that the pool of persons from whom the political directorate is drawn is far too limited and narrow. No wonder that as elections are drawing near, rather than new and fresh faces, old hands are being asked to hang on and rejects being regurgitated. Like it or not, our present system of politics is such that it keeps out many who may be willing to contribute without becoming choir-boys/girls. A way has to be forced to deal with that reality, and no amount of “they must face the polls” can provide a solution. There are people who faced the polls, but when voters objected, party leaders said “you are voting for me, not him.” What kind of representation is that?

The referendum must be debated with open consciences. If the ULP is wrong, then our country and constitution must get primacy, not the party. If the NDP is wallowing in nonsense, those supporters who know better must first try to get the leadership to change course. If not, put your conscience besides your country and constitutional development. We must work assiduously to ensure that the referendum does not become a referendum on the performance of the ULP. It is perfectly reasonable to approve of the referendum, and then based on your assessment of performance disagree with the ULP at the next elections. It will be far more difficult to vote against progressive constitutional change and then expect the new politics to be different from the old.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.