March 11, 2011

Our day of shame


From whatever angle you look at it, the events which transpired inside and outside the House of Assembly last Thursday were not only deeply regrettable, they have also put an eternal blot on our political history. They have left all who are concerned about the future of our country with serious worry about the state of affairs in this lovely land of ours, wondering how much further down the drain our politicians are prepared to drag us.{{more}}

What is also of concern is that some of the chief culprits in the lamentable affair are going even further by using modern communication technology to spread misleading images and reports of our country all around the globe. Many of the recipients of such propaganda have been bombarding relatives and friends here at home with questions presupposing that the whole country is in revolt and that there is a total breakdown of law and order. While this might satisfy the objectives of the perpetrators, it is our country and its development prospects which suffer.

Ever since the night of the December 2010 elections, when there was initial refusal on the part of the Opposition to accept the results of a democratic poll, our country has been mired in political division and hostility. The government, with a renewed mandate, initially took the high road in offering national reconciliation. Their actions have yet to match those noble words and we are far from that achievement. Indeed, the government seems to be almost playing in to the hands of those who appear hell-bent on creating chaos as a gateway to power.

In spite of whatever deficiencies there may be in the Representation of the People Act, the government chose the wrong time to try to introduce the amendments. Why was it necessary to amendment the Act now, just weeks after it was used to bring charges against government parliamentarians?

That is no excuse however for the disgraceful scenes on March 3rd. The Opposition seemed to have concluded that in spite of its efforts, neither organised civil society nor the general public had responded in a positive way to the appeals to close the city. Its response was a blatant display of disrespect for the office of the Speaker of the House and Parliament, and an irresponsible mobilisation of its supporters to create public disorder. The deliberate action of the Leader of the Opposition in refusing to take his seat to await a response to his request for a withdrawal of the proposed amendment, was a signal to his troops, inside and outside to embark on mayhem. That is inexcusable and irresponsible. Lawmakers cannot be lawbreakers and those charged with public responsibility must discharge those duties with honour.

That being said, the charges made by members of the Opposition that excessive force was used against them ought to be fully investigated. While we cannot condone their actions in refusing to obey lawful authority, it is nevertheless important that their fundamental human rights, as citizens, and Parliamentarians, be observed.

Where has all this taken us? Who has gained by it? We dare say no one, but it is palpably clear that collectively our country has lost. We need a cooling-off period to restore sanity. Both party leaders have an important role to play in regard to their rhetoric. The amendment to the Bill has gone into Select Committee. We hope, for the sake of peace that it stays there for a long enough time to permit sober debate. A former Attorney General has made a strong case for amending the Representation of the People Act. That may be so, but there seems to be no compelling reason to press for it now, in the current climate. Let reason, sober judgement, dignity and respect for the law prevail!