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Antigua, Grenada, SVG – when are we going to fix our political systems?

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Make no bones about it, each time I follow the conduct and results of general elections in the Caribbean, I become more and more convinced of the absolute necessity for electoral, constitutional and political reform in the Caribbean,as a necessary pre-condition for meaningful democratic governance in the region.

In so doing, I am heartened by the fact that I am not alone. Legal luminaries and constitutional experts have time and again pointed in this direction and called for meaningful change in the way we conduct our political business. Each time, however, the greed for political spoils, our fixation with a system handed down to us, but which is not serving our political needs or preparing us either to meet the demands of the times or, worse, the challenges of the future, results in our acceptance of now-for-now solutions, (political opportunism some would call it), and we end up always shooting ourselves, not just in the foot, but in the head as well.

The latest results of general elections held in Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique last week, and in Antigua and Barbuda this Wednesday, have reinforced my conviction that unless we revamp our political systems, we are going to wallow in a state of what our cultural icon Sulle, described as “permanent Carnival”.

Let us take Grenada, for instance. It is all well and good to congratulate Dr Keith Mitchell and his New National Party for their third clean sweep of the polls. But the sad reality is that in a constitutional framework made for a two-party system, and in which we believe that the only viable parliamentary system is one in which there is Government on one side, and the Opposition on the other, how does it square with no seats for the Opposition, in spite of it having gained the support of nearly 40 per cent of the electorate. Clearly, that is not an equitable reflection of the will of the people.

It also raises again an age-old problem that we in St Vincent and the Grenadines faced before, albeit in different circumstances. How do you guarantee a genuine “Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”, as we shamelessly describe it? After the Vincentian elections in 1974, the infamous “Ten to one, is murder”, to make a pun on Sparrow’s immortal ballad of that name, Parliament, led by the late Milton Cato’s Labour Party, conspired to keep Sir James Mitchell, who won the Grenadines seat in genuine opposition to Labour, from becoming Leader of the Opposition, instead handing the position to Mrs Ivy Joshua, who with her husband, a nominee for the exalted place of National Hero, Ebenezer Joshua, was in an informal alliance with labour. The opportunism, with Joshua being a Government Minister, soon collapsed and we had to bear the consequences on the road to independence.

The same troubling Leader of the Opposition saga was to haunt us again after the 1979 elections, and again, when our Mitchell won all the seats in the 1989 elections. It reared its ugly head in Grenada after the Grenadian Mitchell made his first clean sweep in 1999, and arose once more in 2013 and now again. In fairness to Dr Mitchell, he attempted constitutional reform, making use of the valued services of constitutional expert Dr Francis Alexis. Unfortunately, the short-sightedness of the Grenadian Opposition punched holes in the constitutional reform bubble, just as happened here in SVG, where Dr Alexis assisted Bro PR Campbell and the Constitutional Reform Commission. “Leave the Constitution alone”, was the cry. “We want elections”.

So, Grenada has had two elections, but still can’t get a Parliamentary Opposition. Does that not tell us that something is wrong? Does it not indicate that we must be careful about loud-mouthed rabble-rousers who seek power at all costs, rather than just and lasting solutions to our challenges?

Now we have Antigua, and the same old khaki pants. At the time of writing this (Wednesday night), it looked as though that country is going to have its own Leader of the Opposition challenges, for if, the major opposition UPP wins one seat, and the Barbuda People’s Movement, another, who is to choose the Leader of the Opposition? The Constitution provides for the appointment of the person who seems likely to command the support of the majority of members opposed to the Government. How does the distribution of seats square with the votes cast for the respective parties?

Let us continue the constitutional discussion in my next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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