February 21, 2014

‘Punch – counter punch’ posture to political engagement

Fri Feb 21, 2014

A thought provoking hypothesis thrown out by new Foreign Minister Camillo Gonsalves on last Sunday’s Hitz FM’s Hitz Talk show, should spark some debate among civil society organisations, about their role in current national conversations.{{more}}

The Minister’s theory, as reported in our mid-week edition, suggests that a clash of three unique narratives – of the two main political parties and civil society, – contributes significantly to the obvious political tensions among the populace, but civil society, to avoid battle scars, is increasingly adopting a largely non-participatory stance.

The opposition New Democratic Party’s narrative, the Minister claims, is that the ruling party buys its political support, and its activities and projects in government are a corrupt attempt to purchase electoral favour. The ruling Unity Labour Party’s narrative, he says, is don’t let any opposition challenge go unanswered.

There is therefore in his view a ‘punch – counter punch’ posture to political engagement by the two parties, and independent civil society has adopted a ‘no sell out narrative’. In practical terms, the civil society groups are seen to have become ‘so intimidated by the political climate they stay silent or speak with such timidity as to say almost nothing’. There is an apparent reluctance to be called an NDP dog for saying one thing or a ULP dog for saying the other.

Veteran Educator, and current acting Head of the St. Vincent Grammar school, Curtis King who shared the HITZ FM panel, felt that his union, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teacher Union’s seemingly muted reaction to the recent High Court ruling that past president Otto Sam’s job transfer from his head teacher’s position was illegal, is a powerful illustration of the Minister’s position.But there are a few other considerations that should be brought into the equation.

Have we seen a steady drift by the populace away from the community and interest groups and a more direct alignment to political party groups? Are political parties which are increasingly promising to be providers of all things, overtaking the role of development groups, and as a consequence, are our people only interested in non-political engagements if they are in sync with their favoured political lane?

Of relevance to the debate also is the push by civil society leaders into direct electoral politics, with the promise to more directly deliver the objectives of their groups.

As a society we need to seriously analyze the trends and determine if we are better served by them. We must admit to the decline in both community and special interest organisations including the many that dealt with youth and gender issues. Are they relevant today, and would they have any impact on the social challenges in those areas. Would a private sector voice be accepted as an authority on the economy, and do workers see the trade union movement – the workers collective, as their best means for representation.

There is certainly room for an extended conversation.