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Needed: More modernized, relevant political parties


“Almost everything we do has been transformed by new technologies and organisations. Everything, that is, except the way we govern ourselves” – Moses Naim, former Venezuelan Trade Minister.In reading the above, quoted from an article in the London magazine PROSPECT, I at least had the comfort of knowing that I am not alone in similar sentiments that I have expressed publicly, both verbally and in print over the past few years. Those thoughts were particularly crystallized and vindicated during the constitutional reform process and experiences of 2003-2009.{{more}}

Then, faced with the noble and inevitable dual tasks of ridding ourselves of an outdated political system imposed on us by former colonial rulers, while at the same time forging a modern and home-grown system which is relevant to our needs, we spurned our historic duty and ended up voting for the foreign imposition. Very significantly, the two major parties of our “democracy” fell into the trap of trying to outdo each other politically, rather than giving clear leadership and direction to the national cause.

As a member of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), I was very disappointed in the attitudes displayed by our Parliamentarians to new, innovative proposals, aimed at making the political process more democratic and participatory. Maintaining the status quo and entrenching the Westminster party system seemed to take priority, even though one side was proposing constitutional change and the other opposing it in favour of “God save the Queen”.

It has left us with broken dreams and back on the level so familiar in the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean. It is a level at which the contest for political power between the parties becomes almost the be-all and end-all of our politics, and where individual views are measured by the degree to which they conform to the positions of the dominant parties. There is precious little room for anything else in this two-party dominance; one is judged as being either for the Government or against it, as being either a ULP or NDP, JLP or PNP, BLP or DLP, and so on.

Our own Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has earned a reputation as being willing to think “outside the box”, but in many ways the politics of his party remains very much in the traditional style and as a result, ULP governance, in spite of lofty rhetoric and noble intentions, is still entrapped in the Parliamentary electoral style. Again and again, the high road is missed, and we get bogged down in the quagmire of tired, localized issues.

So, when, at the advent of the hurricane season, we should be discussing disaster preparedness and the impact of climate change, the big discussion is on Otto Sam being fired from NEMO. I am not saying that that is not an issue for discussion, but it pales in the context of the wider issues. But for all too many of us, what we want to hear is where you stand on the dismissal — to hell with climate change.

Similarly, when the matter of quality education and the way forward should be occupying our minds, it takes second place to government’s refusal to rehire three teachers who contested elections on the Opposition ticket. In the same vein, at a time when we should be discussing and debating the role of the labour movement and industrial relations, Government and Opposition are lined up against each other with the fate of 80-plus port police suffering in the process.

We, who are so wedded to the two-party system, really have a problem. The governing party, for all its impressive achievements over the years, is clearly in need of rejuvenation and renewal, but there is so far little evidence of enthusiasm in that direction. Its Parliamentary alternative consistently fails to rise to the occasion and provide positive leadership. At every major hurdle, it seems to prefer twists and turns, resorting instead to cheap petty politicking.

Can either of these parties inspire persons, not directly politically involved, save for those with personal political ambitions, to join their ranks and participate more fully in the political life of the country?

It is a sad state of affairs that is crippling the entire western “democratic” process. Just consider a mighty country like the USA, with a vast array of human resources, having to put up with George Bush Jr as a president for eight years and even Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate in the 21st century!

Let me conclude by quoting from Mr Naim’s article some more. He advances some ideas to deal with this political malaise:

“To improve the effectiveness of democratic governments, political parties must regain the ability to inspire and mobilise people – especially the young – who would otherwise disdain politics…. Political parties must be willing to drastically overhaul their structures, mindsets and methods to a new world….

“But the ability to recruit young, idealistic and highly motivated activists willing to sacrifice for the political organisation and its cause is something that political parties need to re-learn. Parties must reach out to larger segments of society, beyond their narrow traditional base of activists. Only then will they be able to recover the kind of power they need to govern us well”.

Please, chew on those thoughts.


Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com-mentator.