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The last lap

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Well, we are on to the last lap, so to speak. I must repeat that I have never seen an election like this before with the people being as heavily involved as they appear to be.

The topic of conversation everywhere by young and old is about the soon to be held elections, some of it, at times very heated and emotional. In all of this, it is as if the country has taken a holiday. Christmas, seemingly, is being put on the back burner.{{more}} Even the opening of Nine Mornings had been shelved to give way to a political activity. So, it is all politics and everyone realizes that there is a lot at stake, since the upcoming elections will determine where and how the country goes. In fact, we might even ask if we will have a country left. I say this because of a recent story. As I have heard it, both parties had boats bringing their supporters from Bequia. A group of supporters from one party missed their boat and tried to get a ride on the boat of the opposing party. They even agreed to pay. They were refused and had to overnight on the mainland. This sounds like a joke, but is apparently real. This does not portend well for the future. Bequia is a small community. How are these people going to live together after the elections? Would there be two societies existing in one community? This is serious business indeed, for it parallels what is happening elsewhere.

I have always been appalled by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on US presidential elections; but then the US can afford it. I suspect that if we were ever to know the amount spent on our elections, we will not only be shocked, but disgusted. Ours is a poor country where many are only barely able to survive and in fact, can only do so with the assistance of others. We have extremely high unemployment and some of our businesses are closing, while others are trying to survive. We have to begin to ask serious questions about election funding. Is this a natural trend that we must accept? In this scenario, it is likely to be the case of he who pays the piper calls the tune. The one man, one vote principle on which our democracy is supposed to function then becomes almost meaningless. All of us become voting cattle, available to the highest bidder, as the interest of the paymaster reigns supreme. It makes a mockery of what elections are about and helps to create or perpetuate a dependency syndrome.

There are many disgusting things happening at this critical time of the Silly Season, but to me the worst is the distribution of lumber, cement and galvanize. There is something immoral and sinister about this, even illegal, because call it by whatever name, it is bribery of the highest order. For the past month the entrance to the old Public Works building at Arnos Vale has been jam-packed every morning with trucks collecting their material, some of them sporting the symbols of the ruling party. It is undoubtedly an effort to trade material things for votes.

On the more positive side, the involvement of the people, particularly the young ones, has to be highlighted. It is quite heart-warming to hear and see young people on all sides mounting the rostrums to push the programmes of the party they support and to appeal to other young persons. Many of them are quite articulate and creative with their presentations. Their involvement suggests a desire to participate more strongly in matters of state. The challenge for us is to ensure that this goes beyond the Silly Season and that it becomes a part of everyday life, for they should be encouraged to participate fully. What I am suggesting is the availability of opportunities for them to participate in all spheres of life. We have been associating young people with crime and recklessness. Perhaps, given the opportunity, they will begin to show that there is indeed another face.

I doubt that there is anyone in SVG who can honestly say that he/she is satisfied with the state of our society and with the direction in which we are moving. The question is what can be done about it? We have an opportunity now to select a team that we think is best able to chart a new direction for this country, since it cannot be business as usual. In answering this we have to be honest to ourselves. The challenge is to select a team that will empower and allow us to be critical players in shaping the way forward.

So, our sights have to be set not only on what we do next Wednesday, but on what role we are prepared to play after. Our assessment of what is before us is critical. The ruling party has to be judged on its performance in office; the opposing party on its credibility, the character of its team and the track records of the candidates in their individual spheres of operation. Only these could guide us as to how they might perform, if given the opportunity. For some persons, we have to ask this question: Do they see the exercise in voting as mainly another ritual that they do because they are expected to, or should all of us not use the opportunity to send signals to the politicians to remind them that they are our clients and should never forget it?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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