November 11, 2005
Gentleman’s agreement?

The Code of Conduct for St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ General Elections was signed on September 16 by Louis Straker on behalf of the Unity Labour Party, Dr. Linton Lewis representing the New Democratic Party and Archdeacon Sylvanus Regisford on behalf of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council.

The Christian Council and the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCM) are responsible for monitoring the Code, and from all reports they have. {{more}}They have been monitoring political meetings and have issued statements to the press expressing their disapproval of the participation of school groups and children as well as the conduct of speakers on the political platforms of both parties.

When the code was signed, it was noted that although the code was not a legislative instrument, it was expected that all leaders and candidates should “scrupulously adhere to it,” a gentleman’s agreement in other words.

There are very few gentlemen in this political race, it seems. The first seven of the twenty item code have been broken over and over again by both sides. These seven items are the ones that address the content of the candidates’ presentations and their general conduct during the campaign.

The other thirteen items are procedural, to do with the organization and scheduling of meetings, motorcades, crowd control, broadcast times, etc. It is not expected that the parties will violate these.

But is it too much to expect politicians to live up to the high standards set by the code? Is it too much to expect them to stick to the issues and principles dealing with national development and the real concerns of people? Is it too much to ask our candidates not to make grandiose promises which they know cannot be kept? What about asking them not to lie, tell half-truths or use bribes and innuendoes to gain political advantage?

Is it necessary to use an opponent’s race or class to mobilize support or to vilify them or any section of the society? What about character assassination? Can we get away from that? Is it possible to stay away from inciting, encouraging or fostering hatred or resentment? Do our candidates do everything to promote tolerance, harmony and peace?

It is not too much to expect our candidates to live up to the code, but by and large, our candidates are giving us what we indicate to them we want. Even though we cry foul when the other side violates the code, we say nothing when the leaders on the side we support do. In fact we urge them on.

Will we ever get to the stage where the level of political debate reaches the standard implied in the code of conduct? Maybe, but not any time soon. The NMCM has called for the code to be given teeth by passing it into law. But is it necessary, and to what avail? Are we going to pass legislation to compel our politicians to behave decently, to behave like gentlemen and ladies?

Mind you, there are a few on both sides who never personally sink below a certain level. However, once one member of the party violates the code, and does so repeatedly, the party’s silence implies that the perpetrator is doing so with the sanction of the party. Getting other people to do the party’s dirty work sullies all the members’ hands.

It is possible with creative thought to raise the level of debate while at the same time keeping the presentation lively and entertaining. In the remaining weeks leading up to the poll let’s do better than we have been.