Wanted: A new approach to politics in Barbados, some reflections on the St. John by-election
The current St. John by-election campaign occasioned by the death of our late Prime Minister has left this writer with mixed feelings. Indeed while I do at times enjoy the political jabs which intermittently punctuate the speeches, it is glaring that these have dominated the substance of a number of presentations rendering some of them tasteless, tactless and reeking of the contents disposed of at the Mangrove Landfill. It is indeed heart wrenching to think that some who comprise or who seek to comprise our political directorate would imply that the good people of St. John are retards and trout whilst on the other side some have used the platform to belittle others such as noted political scientists who in my humble opinion have only expressed their objective opinions on campaign affairs as they are so trained. The issues besetting our country require more urgent attention than the use of invective to address opponents and to dismiss seemingly dissenting views. As such this article is not a condemnation of any particular political party or individual but one which calls for a new era of politics and critical thinking to advance this country.
One of the highlights of the current campaign has been the St. John polyclinic which has become akin to a football albeit a political one. It is of note that one of the daily newspapers recently highlighted the case of a homeless gentleman who has called the unfinished polyclinic home for several years and who remains clueless about current political developments. Perhaps this symbolizes the greatest irony for me as it raises an important question. To what extent do we have individuals across our social and economic landscape abandoned by the system as our political directorate ploughs its way into the 21st century clueless of their plight? Like the ‘resident’ of the polyclinic many of these persons are either unaware or apathetic to the political maneuverings as they fight to eke out a living with the little they have.
Another major issue arising from the campaign is the debate over the perceived political victimization of the parish of St. John. Whether it be St. John or St.Thomas, St.Lucy or St.Peter all Barbadians must be included in the development process as they too pay taxes and work to improve the standard of living in this country. Development cannot be confined to or withheld from those areas which have staunchly supported either political party. If we openly or subtly practice such victimization it will not only place the people of a particular constituency at a disadvantage but will have serious implications for Barbados on a whole. A chain is as strong as its weakest link and no true progress can occur if any section of our society is left behind.
With both the internal and external pressures we currently face it cannot be the same old political rhetoric if we are to maintain our rank as a leader in human and social development in this hemisphere. Where is the distinction between our political parties? Where is the articulation of the ideology and political philosophies which would have so distinguished them in their formative years? If there is no such distinction then we are faced with a situation of a two party dictatorship, where every ten to fifteen years we simply swap red apples for yellow ones. Admittedly the neo-liberal dictates have rendered the options available to developing countries extremely limited. Yet with the noticeable capitulation of capitalism and the continual drag of a deep economic crisis there must be some wiggle room for an alternative or a hybrid path of social, economic and political development.
In the absence of a viable third political party, civil society and its constituents must continue to play the role of the vital third sector. Despite many of the knifelike orations from the political platforms (if one likens the tongue to a sword) the pen remains mightier than the sword and in the words of Fidel Castro, ‘history will indeed absolve’ those who dared to constructively criticize the gross aspects of this by-election. On that note let me congratulate two young men who stood up on the platforms on either side of the political fence. Hearing and reading the contributions of Senator Andre Worrel, President of the Young Democrats and Mr. Akil Daley, Vice President of the Young Socialist was indeed refreshing. One can only hope that they would stay true to the cause and set a shining example for other youth who may be politically inclined as well as for their senior comrades.
Emerging out of the year 2010, arguably one of the most difficult years in recent history, the task for both political parties should have been to use the publicity received from the current campaign to instill a sense of hope and to take the people into their confidence. With only days remaining in the by-election one can only pray that these words are heeded and that integrity is restored to our political institutions. No doubt many young people are observing and have taken a dismal view to much of the by-election’s proceedings, swift action is needed to reverse the inevitable negative consequences of this. To emphasize this point I wish to conclude with two apt quotes.
“Although youth want to participate in politics and raise their concerns and priorities, they are often unable to do so because political leaders have their own agendas and self-interests, which detaches youths from active involvement in politics and social life.”
(World Development Report 2007)
“….unless drastic steps are taken to bolster and renew democratic character and institutional capability of the political and social systems, states within the Caribbean will collapse.” – Selwyn Ryan (2001)