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The political divide: we need a new architecture

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Before I resume my comments on the horrors of intra-Caribbean travel, permit me this week to make a couple brief comments on political developments, since we have just concluded Parliamentary discussions on the Budget. It was somewhat of a strange experience, in the absence of the Opposition, and must have had some impact on the political atmosphere, depriving listeners of the cut-and-thrust, which not only tests the capability of the Parliamentarians, but often brings out matters and perspectives which would not otherwise be revealed.{{more}}

I am, and I assume that I am not alone in this, still at a loss to fathom the tactics of the Opposition in boycotting Parliament, but they must know what they are doing and the consequences of walking the political tightrope. What I can say, is that their absence deprives the people of the country of a valuable contribution that they can make. No other opportunity, staged or not, is going to come like the Budget debate if one wishes to expose the Government, criticize its policies or make the case why they consider themselves the “legal government” and conversely, the elected government to be “illegal.”

I say so because the nationwide interest at Budget time cannot be recaptured by any Opposition-staged event. They will simply miss thousands who would have otherwise heard them in the House, whether they agree with the Opposition or not. It is a golden opportunity missed, for while staging an “alternative Budget” may please supporters, it does little to attract those who may not have supported or voted for the NDP, but may be won if it can bring credible arguments against the Budget and put forward realistic policies. Even Geoffrey Boycott stopped playing cricket some three decades ago!

My biggest concern however is how are we to bridge this divide which is tearing the nation apart. The Budget is being presented, but substantial numbers are listening, not to hear the Budget presentations for themselves, but to political presentations, critical of it by those who would have read it, (or at least had opportunity to do so). How can they reach a balanced conclusion? How can persons who listen exclusively to one side or another ever be in a position to get an objective view?

We must be free to disagree, and that right must be vehemently defended, but so too must the right to agree. Why should someone with a different political perspective from you be vilified to the worst? These political differences, fanned by those with their personal grievances and ambitions, are destroying the nation.

That scenario came out clearly in the six-year constitutional review process. The first set of booklets published by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) with unanimous consent from its members, including representatives from both political parties as well as civil society members, who constituted the vast majority, addressed itself to the nature of our politics.

A substantial portion of the time of the CRC and of its recommendations were devoted to trying to fix this problem, to proposing a framework for national discourse and consensus. That, fundamentally, is what the exercise was all about. If we had been serious, if we had adopted a mature and responsible approach, many of today’s problems could have been avoided.

Instead, we went down the road of irresponsible political opportunism, reduced national discourse to cheap propaganda, and ended up celebrating the wounds which we inflicted on our body politic in rejecting the constitutional reform proposals.

We voted for Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England as our Head of State, but refuse to even show respect to the opening of “Her Majesty’s Parliament”. We didn’t want to discuss reducing the powers of the Prime Minister or term limits, but now complain about supposed “dictatorship” and “dynasty”. We refused to engage in serious debate over the system of elections, but are now scathing in condemnation of electoral fraud and alleged bribery.

We threw out the baby with the bath water and are now mourning the loss of the child. Such hindsight, such crass opportunism leaves us prey to all the political charlatans seeking limelight. Whatever the short-term solutions, our entire political experiences, from 1966, through 1972, 1974, 1978/9 in the run-up to independence and framing the Constitution, to the one-sided Parliament of 1989/94, to 1998/2001, right up to the present, tells us that we need a new political architecture. That is our reality!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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