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Grenadians to make constitutional referendum choice

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After many years of discussions and debate, and three Constitutional reform attempts, the voters of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique are preparing to go to the polls on October 27, incidentally Independence Day in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

It will not be an occasion to choose who will govern the country, but rather, a rare opportunity, to have a say in determining under what system the country and its people will be governed.{{more}}

The occasion will be a referendum on proposed amendments to the Grenada Constitution of 1974. It will be the second such one to be held in the English-speaking Caribbean, following the ill-fated one in St Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2009. Another coincidence crops up here, for the chair of the Grenada Constitutional Reform Committee is none other than Dr Francis Alexis, who himself was chief adviser to the Vincentian counterpart committee. This has even prompted the usual sceptics in the media to be asking if Dr Alexis is to suffer a 2-0 defeat.

Whatever the politics of the situation, there is no gainsaying that the Grenada referendum is of significance, not only to the people of that country, but to the Caribbean as a whole. SVG blazed the trail but its government got burnt in the process. There are others, some of whom started out on the constitutional reform process even before our country, which have been balking at taking the final plunge. Constitutional reform has been on the cards now for quite some time in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St Lucia, for instance, but has not come to fruition yet.

The Grenada government is therefore to be congratulated for its courage to put this initiative in the hands of its people via the referendum. It has adopted a different approach from SVG in that, rather than the wholesale package, virtually a “root and branch” one, it has broken up its package into several smaller ones. Instead of a singular vote, Grenadian voters are to be allowed seven choices, not just the blanket ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ that we had to make.

Each of those seven ballots deal with different though related, matters, permitting voters to vote for whichever ones they choose and not having the agonizing choice that we presented to our voters, ‘the whole hog or nothing”. In hindsight, as a member of our own Constitutional Review Committee, it is a much more realistic approach. In our case there were persons, generally supportive of constitutional reform, and most of the proposals, who, for one reason or another, disagreed with one or two aspects of the constitution proposed, and may have felt so strongly about a particular proposal, that they felt bound to reject the whole.

There are other differences between the Grenadian and Vincentian processes as well. Ours was undoubtedly much more extensive and inclusive, to the extent of mounting missions to the diaspora (Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, BVI, UK, USA and Canada) where many Vincentian migrants reside, to get their views on the issues. But fundamentally, such is our same ‘stuck-in-the past’ nature of politics, that in Grenada it has, like here, boiled down to opposition politics.

The proposed amendments to the Grenada Constitution face the same “Vote No” tactics that we experienced here. Even supposedly intelligent, and certainly educated persons, are raising all kinds of spurious grounds to justify opposition to a change in the Constitution. Just like here, Grenadians are being told that they are “not ready”, that there has been “insufficient explanation” of the issues and all such nonsense.

These are thinly-disguised smokescreens to cover up the real partisan issues. If one can defeat the government in the referendum, no matter how unscrupulous the grounds, then it increases one’s chances of victory at the next general elections. The ends justify the means, as they say. What a sad state of affairs in a 21st century Caribbean!

We shall examine the seven sets of proposals on the Grenada ballot in my next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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