HEADLINES

What is behind the restlessness of Caribbean electorates?

Published on July 5, 2016
By Arthur Kallick,

The people of Saint Lucia and the Caribbean in general woke up on the morning of June 7, 2016, to a new reality; Dr Kenny Anthony is no longer the prime minister of that country.

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Arthur Kallick was born in Trinidad and lived in Grenada until he moved to Canada in the late 1980s after completing secondary school. He has a Master’s in family counselling and child physiology from the University of Toronto. He is now a freelance writer and has been living in Grenada for the past six years, and at present works with Caribbean Family Planning unit as a counsellor

The almost flippant and matter-of-fact announcement of the dissolution of parliament and an election date caught many by surprise. The bare minimum notice given was at best distasteful. Some will argue that no law was broken but can democracy be served by such political ambush of the people and indeed the opposition.

The constitution of many Caribbean countries give incumbents this unfair advantage as they are always better resourced, have power to set the date for election and use state resources to run their campaigns.

I argue that there is every reason why the debate for a fixed date should be encouraged. Of course, there could be some proviso that can allow a government, in consultation with the political opposition, to set a date other that what is enshrined in law.

In the face of this embarrassing loss at the polls, Dr Anthony indicated that he will not occupy the seat of leader of Her Majesty’s opposition in Parliament and shall step down as party leader. If the motivation was to catch the UWP off guard or a case of overestimation of his political support, the results suggest that the St Lucia Labour Party seems to have been blissfully unaware of the political realities of the country. He and his party now have to face the consequences of this terrible miscalculation.

This latest change in administration follows the now extended list of changes since 2013. Denzil Douglas tenure ended, so too was Tillman Thomas, Kamla Persad Bissessar, Donald Ramotar, Portia Simpson and now Dr Anthony.

Caribbean countries face many challenges to which the present crop of leaders seems unable or incapable of implementing solutions. Unsustainable levels of public debt, rising levels of crime, political polarization, high unemployment especially among youth are just some of the challenges.

A close examination of the quality of political discourse shows that the political class does not have a clue as to what is required to address our chronic problems. Campaigns wallow in the cesspool of personal attacks, unrealistic promises and carnival like revelry that only diminishes the seriousness of election process. Some commentators opine that Caribbean electorate is gullible and that politicians prey on the ignorance of the people so as to prevail on election night.

The fact is that our people are indeed tired of the same old rhetoric and there is a need to find solutions to national problems. The voter turnout rate in Jamaica was 47% while the just concluded Saint Lucia poll attracted some 52% of eligible voters. This means that the process seem unable to convince a significant percentage of the population to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

But what do Caribbean people want from their leaders? The emergence of populism, nepotism and corruption within the polity has complicated and already difficult social, psychological and economic situation. Dr Ralph Gonzales said that “elections have consequences”. Caribbean people are yet to internalize the relationship between the everyday governance of their countries with the choices they made in the polling station. That is probably the most disheartening and unfortunate feature of this scenario.

In the meantime the political parties continue to fight one another for control of the state’s resources knowing full well that they cannot solve our country’s problems. Ordinary people continue to describe themselves as an “ite” much like the former supervisor in St Kitts who chose to carry a nickname “labour dog”.

Countries get the government they deserve but restlessness at the election time can only lead to less than optimal decisions. Sink or float, we are all bound by the decision. After all, that is the essence of democracy.

God help us!

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