If we are to judge from the political statements of our two political parties, it would appear that they are beginning to be seized by the mood which sweeps the country every five years – the election syndrome.
Prime Minister Gonsalves, perhaps the supreme electioneer, hardly makes a statement these days, irrespective of topic, without some reference to 2025 when the next election is due constitutionally. On the other side, not only has the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) begun more direct campaigning, but it has also now been quoted as controversially calling on some trade unions, not the union movement or workers as a whole, to help it to “bring down the government”.
The insistence of Prime Minister Gonsalves to lead his Unity Labour Party (ULP) into yet another election, seeking a sixth successive victory, has both positive and negative implications. He is known to be a formidable campaigner and strategist and no doubt his experience will benefit his party. But it may give more than a hint to his opponents of the ULP’s own weakness and dependency on him. They would be foolish if they do not try to exploit this.
For us, the electorate, one big question looms. How will the next campaign be different from the past? The same old denigrations, the splurging of money in electioneering, the blurring of issues and the spewing of hate. Are there issues governing the conduct of elections which are not being raised now but will no doubt surface after the bell has been rung, so as to question the viability of the electoral process itself? We have had the sad experience of a Supervisor of Elections who was unfairly targeted, hounded and harassed.
In addition, two years before the election is due there is general recognition that the society is plagued by political polarization. Do we have to, not only separate ourselves in warring camps but wrongfully designate others, innocently, and abuse them as well? Is this how we want to go on building a “democracy”?
The leaders of the respective parties have a huge responsibility in this regard. Not only must they be careful with their utterances, but they must also recognize the dangers in reckless utterances. How could one call on some unions, not the union movement or workers as a whole, to help the NDP to “bring down the government”, especially when included in that lot are the police officers, responsible for upholding law and order?
We do not have to portray anyone not in agreement with us in the worst possible manner, nor to give a hostile slant to every disagreement. After the last four elections we witnessed protests against the outcome, but what do we do in between those occasions? If we have issues with the conduct of elections, should we not now, before the atmosphere gets toxic, insist that the political parties engage in meaningful discussions on the subject with an aim at arriving at an agreement, thus sparing us the post-election turmoil?
We want healthy campaigning, on issues, not lies, distractions and slander, and definitely not needless confrontations.