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The ringing of the bell

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For some time now, in this heated election season, the ringing of the bell has been the talk about town. The country has long been on election watch, as persons await the announcement of the dissolution of Parliament and the date for elections. This issue demonstrates how much of a joke our politics has become and the kind of games we play, demonstrated by our Prime Minister’s efforts to tease or frustrate the Opposition with the announcement of the date.{{more}} Under our political system, a bastardized version of the Westminster model, it is the Prime Minister who is vested with the authority to call elections. We have accepted this as a reality of our political life, but it becomes a serious matter when it is used as a prank or part of a game plan. There are those who are attracted to the idea of a fixed election date, an issue that surfaced a few years ago as we sought to implement a package of constitutional reforms. This certainly cannot be accommodated under our type of political systems, particularly when we have to deal with the matter of votes of ‘no confidence,’ which, if successful, could lead to elections at any time.

The Prime Minister’s power to call elections whenever it suits him within his five-year mandate carries with it the ability to use it as an element of surprise. This time around, the element of surprise has been lost. Parliament stands dissolved five years after the first meeting of Parliament following the 2010 general elections. This means that the dissolution of Parliament has to take place by December 29, 2015. With Parliament dissolved, the Prime Minister has up to 90 days to have the elections, barring a state of emergency or war. A state of emergency, though not having been a frequent occurrence here, is always a possibility. I doubt that we are about to start a war, even if we could find an enemy. So, technically, elections can be held anytime up to March 29, 2016. Our Prime Minister has on more than one occasion indicated that elections will be held this year. A minimum of three weeks and a maximum of six weeks is the time required to give notice for an election. This means that any announcement about the date of elections will be devoid of any element of surprise. Only the Prime Minister knows why he is taking it down almost to the very end of the life of parliament. He obviously has his own calculated reason for doing so. The parties are in election mode, just waiting for the starter’s bell, which will signal a call to action. With the dissolution of Parliament, there will be a writ from the Governor General that will indicate the dates for elections and nominations. Following Nomination Day, elections have to be held no less than 15 days, nor more than 21 days after.

The official announcement of the dissolution of parliament and the calling of an election date will help to lift the campaign to a higher height, if that is at all possible, given what has been happening on the ground already. Hopefully, it will relieve the tensions that are nearing boiling point. We have to find some way in the future of avoiding this growth of tension. It is not good for our society, since it creates an explosive atmosphere.

We can only hope that with the elections over, our country will revert to a state of normalcy. But does that exist? Will the bitterness and the accompanying animosity disappear? This is going to be our biggest challenge. Our society cannot continue with this state of political division, hostility and mistrust. But how can we overcome them? Statesmen will have to emerge and our political leaders will have to rise to the occasion as we await their signals. It will certainly have to be more than talk, as we expect them not only to talk the talk, but also to walk the talk. But we cannot simply await their signals. Players from outside the political arena will have to emerge. The media will have to develop strategies to better inform us without any blatant political bias and to get us to talk to one another. It is time for voices outside the political box to be heard. But, maybe they no longer exist! To admit this, however, is to accept defeat and to suggest that our society is too far gone.

The relationship between our politicians and our people has to be set on a different path. The handing out of lumber and galvanize and whatever else, sends the wrong signals, because the people then become dependent on these handouts. They need to be taught ‘to fish’, not just given fish. They have to see themselves as partners in a genuine effort to transform our political life and facilitate our development. But then, this is St Vincent and the Grenadines! We must not give up, since there are still possibilities. We have in the past climbed out of dark holes and we can and will again. But all of this is after the elections. The way we act and respond over the next few weeks will determine the mettle of which we are made.

We have to cool down at some point and exercise our franchise as we see fit. Our ballot is our secret weapon and only we can determine what happens in the private space we are given to cast our ballots and signal what we expect over the next five years. We have all seen the political players at work, certainly more so over the past six months. Our fate and the fate of the country lie in our hands. This is a heavy responsibility, but how we exercise it will say a lot about us and what we think about the future!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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