Another essay in the ongoing series during our fiftieth year of sovereign nationhood.
However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion. –George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
There is, unarguably, a near palpable air of “partisan politicking” in Barbados. With the next general election constitutionally due more than two years from now, I am nonplussed as to the reason (s) for this.
Perhaps it is owed to the bizarre developments in the US Presidential run-offs where, in a jurisdiction that guarantees equality, and whose version of the Colossus, Lady Liberty, proclaims a welcome to the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, the presumptive nominee for one of the major parties has managed to achieve this status in spite, or by virtue, of his enunciation of an intended policy that would exclude even natural born United States citizens from the country on the basis of their heritage or religion. What is even more remarkable is that he has done so without the total loss of support from the leadership of his party, whose minds are fixated rather on having their nominee in the White House next January.
It may be owed too, to the recent round of general elections in the region where the electorates seem most unforgiving of an administration’s failure to provide instant economic gratification and thus unwilling to accord it more terms than one. It has happened so far in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and, on Monday last week, with the St Lucia Labour Party in St Lucia.
So the outgone People’s National Movement administration in Jamaica seeks now for reasons why it suffered electoral misfortune, ascribing it variously to snubbing political debates, initiating a brouhaha over the palatial home of the Opposition Leader, low worker morale, unresolved candidate election issues and in-fighting within the party. No consideration appears to have been given to the actuality that it might simply have been the electorate’s way of inquiring and answering, “What have you done for me lately?”
As for my friend and former Faculty of Law colleague, the Prime Minister of St Lucia, one suspects that he himself had seen the writing on the wall when he publicly expressed discomfiture at the presence in St Lucia of non-national political operatives aligned against his party, a phenomenon that has seemingly become par for the course in successive regional election campaigns.
It may be both or neither of these. It may even be the local preoccupation with being perceived to have been on the right side of history and that there is too a general feeling that we are in for a humdinger of a general election campaign in 2018 where there is likely to be regime change.
But I got the clearest indication of this sentiment last week when my column on the legal issues surrounding the killing of the handsome silverback gorilla, Harambe, and the possible liability in criminal negligence of the mother of the boy who fell into Harambe’s enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo caused some consternation in another forum in that it had nothing to do with current affairs in Barbados. Some even suggested that it was intended to be a distraction from more serious (sc. partisan political) issues.
While this was by no means an overwhelmingly popular opinion, it establishes that, for some, little else matters beyond the state of current local political play and that they will not be distracted by anything even remotely unconnected.
What we fail to realize is that if there is to be significant change, it will not come through the mere exchange of one grouping of personalities from the so-called political class for another. This game of “political tag” is scarcely the way for the citizen to play a greater role in his or her democratic destiny beyond the quinquennial (five yearly) placement of an X against a faceless and, in our case, symbol-less, name.
There is a memorable quotation by the comic strip character, Pogo, used to commemorate the very first Earth Day in 1970. Pogo is trying to pick up the litter strewn by humans near a swamp. It is, “We have met the enemy and he is us”, signifying that so far as the preservation of the environment is concerned, mankind is his own enemy.
The question begs asking, “Who or what is the enemy of the people, preventing their acquisition of more sovereignty over their own affairs?
Too besides, the Honorable Prime Minister is fond of urging the nation to reflect on three items during our fiftieth year –(i) those things that have been beneficial to our development that we would wish to keep; (ii) those similar that we have lost and need to reclaim; and (iii) those that we should wish to discard as quickly as possible? To this paraphrase, I would respectfully add a fourth consideration for reflection –those things that would be helpful to our future development to better governance and that we need to acquire as quickly as possible.
It is submitted that the answer is similar in both cases. The enemy, as Pogo suggested, may be us (and our narrow focus on political partisanship). And that which we might each do well to acquire quickly is the ability to think for ourselves and not to be mere “useful idiots” of any partisan political dictate.
To be continued…