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Elections – Changing the change

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Since my column last Friday, there have been a number of developments relating to elections and politics in the Caribbean. The Antiguan Prime Minister has confirmed speculation of an early election. General elections in Antigua and Barbuda are to be held on March 21, less than one month away and one week after the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique go to the polls. Ironically, the electorate of Barbados, a country where elections are constitutionally due, unlike the other two who still have breathing space, is still waiting to hear when they can cast their ballots.

But, though I had already written most of this column before Tuesday’s court ruling on the ongoing legal challenge to the results of the 2015 general elections in SVG, a comment on the outcome is well in order. I merely restrict comments at this stage to the degree to which party supporters are continually hyped up and then often wrong-footed by reality. Up until Tuesday morning, if one listened to NDP leaders and supporters, one got the impression that ‘victory’ was a must. So, how do explain defeat?

We really have to make greater efforts at political education in our country. Too much of the political debate is enmeshed in ignorance and propaganda. We are not doing ourselves any favour in this regard. A new political agenda is needed, which goes beyond the narrow interests of both political parties and encompasses the wider needs of the majority of us, not caught up in the party conflicts. More on this another time, but let me get back to the original theme.

Before the “who will win?” speculations, it is in order to make a few brief comments on issues common to all three countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Grenada), as well as our own. There are issues which have bearing on the conduct of elections, as well as on the constitutional context. We must try and learn from each and every one of these issues.

One thing that struck me is the appeal by outgoing Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell to his supporters to “stay away” from meetings of the Opposition or, if in attendance, to try not to disrupt the proceedings. He is not the first leader to make such an appeal, nor, I dare say, the last. The reality is that one of the main features of election campaigns in our “democracies” is that of the display of intolerance, a blunt refusal to entertain, or even listen to, dissenting views.

That intolerance has been growing stronger, in spite of the glorious opportunities we have to access wider information, including from those with whom we disagree. Somehow, the closer we come to elections, the less we listen to views which do not conform to our own. Family, relatives, friends, neighbours, people with whom we have been conversing, if not necessarily agreeing over the years, suddenly come up against, not just a refusal to listen, but downright hostility. We raise voices and denigrate others at the first opportunity and if not quite resorting to violence, we are prepared to justify those who do it, once they are on “our side”. What manner of “democracy” is this?

Our constitutional provisions are also serious matters that we treat as matters of political convenience. It is not by chance that, since the end of colonialism, not a single one of those saddled with Westminster-style parliamentary democracy has been able to make fundamental changes to the constitutions bequeathed to us. We rile when it suits our purpose, but baulk on each occasion the opportunity arises to make fundamental change.

We should listen to the winning calypso in T&T’s Calypso Monarch competition this year. Helon Francis won by exposing the hypocritical and cosmetic nature of the political changes we make, urging us to “CHANGE DE CHANGE” itself. We have had multiple “changes” in the political directorate in the Caribbean over the years, but how much have we changed, at least for the better, since then? Are we not still locked in to the old political and constitutional frameworks that have caused us so much pain? It is certainly time enough for us to examine how cosmetic have been those changes and to seek to change the very nature of the change itself.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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