May 24, 2019
The Focus should be on Electoral Reform, not on Political Grandstanding

There have been several inglorious days in the life of the Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Last Friday, May 17, marked another sad chapter in our political history.

Among the matters before the sitting of Parliament that day, was a motion by the Leader of the Opposition calling for electoral reform. Both sides of the House had agreed at its previous sitting to devote four hours to debate the motion, that is, after spending an interminable length of time in offering condolences and congratulations.

Having thus agreed, and given the importance of the matter, one which has arisen out of opposition grouses following the 2015 general elections, one expected constructive debate and some sort of consensus as to the outcome. However, that was not to be. The entire period was exhausted in fruitless exchanges over whether to allow an amendment to the motion moved by the Government, to the extent that the allocated time was expended without any debate on the substantive motion or the amendment.

Clearly, whatever the basis for wanting electoral reform, which seemed to be at the root of last week’s disagreement, there is little doubt that the electoral system itself and the machinery of the system, are both in need of review and reform. Each successive general election has exposed weaknesses which ought to be addressed. We can disagree about the relative impact of these deficiencies, but not that they do not exist. So, if there is agreement on the need for reform and improvement, can we not rise above petty squabbles such as whose version of the motion will be debated and who will speak first?

With our country about to go into the homestretch towards elections, it is imperative that electoral reform be addressed, but not in the context of sore losers trying to blame everything on the election system.

Instead, we should be thinking about what is the most appropriate approach to the matter? Should representatives of Government and Opposition hold preliminary discussions and come to some consensus before any public grandstanding in Parliament? Does the matter need to be taken further than Parliament to involve input from the public? Should we not try to arrive at some common ground before asking Parliament to vote on it? It is an affront to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines for our parliamentarians to engage in such unruly behaviour as we witnessed last Friday.

In this, the Opposition in particular needs to reflect on whether its confrontational approach is paying dividends. Being effective in Parliament is not who can be loudest and most offensive.

Instead Opposition members should spend more time strategizing on how best to use the Standing Orders to get the best outcome, despite their minority status in Parliament. They did not appear to have considered the possibility that the Government side would take the same approach as had been taken with the Motion of No Confidence in 2018.

The environment in Parliament is a competitive one, and to say that the Government side is “abusing the rules” or that they should “allow” the debate of the Motion as tabled, because that time was specially allocated for Private Members, is to shift the responsibility for not having been well prepared away from where it properly lies.

But beyond that, we all agree that electoral reform is necessary and should take place in all our interests, and that of peace and good governance. We must find a way to achieve this.