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The Opposition: A sad state

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Maybe I ought to apply for the vacant position of senator in the House of Assembly, given the sacking of Senator Anesia Baptiste by the Leader of the Opposition. I am no “big light” myself, having never swallowed any light bulb, to use colloquial terms, but surely, Germaine Rose’s son can’t be much worse than many of those who have occupied senatorial positions, Government and Opposition, since 1979.{{more}}

Unfortunately, my experience with the Constitutional reform process, having been an active member of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), tells me that there will be no tolerance of such “intrusion” by both sides of Parliament. When the CRC made proposals for non-party persons to be appointed to Parliament as senators, (it even proposed an elective method); both the governing ULP and the opposition NDP were in unison in rejecting the proposal.

To a man, and woman, they would have “none o’ dat”, no “backdoor entrance into Parliament”, in the words of one MP, himself a “backdoor” entrant. The message from the parliamentarians was lucidly clear, “if you want to be in Parliament, run for elections”. It doesn’t matter if you lose, the party will find some way of easing you in, maybe even through a back window. The senatorial positions are used therefore, not necessarily to enhance the level of debate and discussion in the House, but either to reward the party faithful or to expose young aspirants for future political office.

Presumably, this is where the ex-senator Baptiste came in, her strident, inflexible opposition to constitutional reform gladdening the hearts of the NDP leadership and raising hopes, on her side as well as on theirs, of a future successful challenge for a Parliamentary seat in general elections. But those who have played with slingshots as young boys would know that they sometimes backfire. That same strident uncompromising attitude would rebound to hit the Opposition Leader in the face. You could almost hear those in the know shouting out, “ah did tell yo’ so”.

But there are far more serious issues than the personal ones. The NDP has for some time now been wallowing in what Trinis like to call “ro-ro”, internal bacchanal. It has become so focused on comess politics, as evidenced by the utterings of its chief spokespeople in Parliament, on the radio and on street corners, so occupied with the trivial happenings and sayings that it has become distracted from being able to see the wider picture. With each failure at the polls and the inability to lift its level of conversation, it has become almost cannibalistic in its petty politics. No wonder this sad situation.

I say sad because, unlike supporters of the ULP, I do not rejoice in the misfortunes of the Opposition. We live in a country in which the supposed virtues of the Westminster Parliamentary system, bequeathed to us by our colonial masters, are extolled. We proclaim the presumed “necessity” of an Opposition. So strong is this belief, that it is tantamount to treason to contemplate any system outside this pale as being “democratic”. Democracy has been defined for us in terms of Government on one side of Parliament, and an Opposition on the other. It is not a view to which this writer subscribes. But the attempt to indulge the voting public in that conversation, during the constitutional debate, was rebuffed, so let’s leave it for another occasion.

What is of current and lasting concern is the failure of the Opposition to perform even that limited role, as implied in the Government and Opposition theory. With each false step, each blunder, the Opposition, while professing to uphold democratic ideals, is in fact weakening its own cause. In so doing it merely strengthens the very Government which it accuses of “trampling on democracy” in SVG. That cannot be good, not for the NDP, not for the country as a whole, not even for the ULP. It can only lead the ruling party to become more complacent, less responsive to the views of citizens, less self-critical. We simply cannot afford that.

It is a state of affairs that we as patriots must take with the utmost seriousness. The Opposition is failing badly in its role to provide the country with a viable alternative, to raise hopes that, should we find the Gonsalves administration falling short, it can provide the leadership, the vision, the clarity to continue to fuel our development thrust. It has characterized the state of affairs in our country as being “the worst ever”. Is internecine fighting going to help us? Do they not have better ways of handling relatively minor disputes? Does washing the dirty linen in public demonstrate maturity in handling disputes?

This is by no means my only source of disappointment. I shall continue the conversation in my following column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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