Our Readers' Opinions
September 3, 2004
Who should ring the bell?

by Dr. Richard A. B. Cox

Most modern constitutions, including SVG’s, stipulate the fundamentals of the electoral process of the country.
The problem with our laws, is they fail to address some seemingly minor issues, and it’s precisely because of this failure why this undignified despatch of the outgoing and the absence of stately conduct in the instalment of the incoming prime minister is accepted behaviour. To correct this, the new constitution must firstly set the dates of general elections nullifying the power of the prime minister in this regard. {{more}}
The idea of snap elections which sometimes return to haunt the sitting prime minister would be a thing of the past. This would also reduce the madness that usually follows the so-called “ringing of the bell”, sometimes culminating in these “foreday morning” changes of Prime Minister. And with this change, the nominations of candidates six weeks before elections allowing ample scrutiny by John Public of those with “hats in the ring” must become mandatory.
Secondly, it’s my conviction that the new electoral laws should go further and set the rules of behaviour in a transfer of power. There should be a six weeks period between the declaration of the results and the actual handover. This month and a half would allow the sitting government to orderly vacate office while giving the incoming time to acquaint themselves with the trappings of power before taking control.
It must be incumbent on the outgoing to explain to the incoming what are the urgent state issues to be dealt with. This is extremely important for as old people say, “See me and come live with me are two different things”. In other words, green horn politicians suddenly asked to captain a ministry without a clue of the “going ons” are more often than not bound to run into serious problems just by trying to leave port, history is on my side here.
This period must be used by both prime minister and leader of the opposition to be, to submit the names of nominees for the various offices of ministers, senators and parliamentary sectaries along with full declaration of their assets. Senators to be, who did not contest the just concluded elections, must submit a comprehensive curriculum vitae and their nomination shall be subject to review by the head of state who shall call on the pertinent leader for clarification if the need arises. I am already on record demanding changes as regards our head of state and I believe these must be changes allowing that office to perform meaningful services, than being a mere ceremonial figure, a person elevated as payment for assured loyalty to the Prime Minister.
There must be specified dates for taking of oath of all members of parliament at the same time. This is to say that there would be no separate taking of oath by government and opposition. The exercise must be decorated with proper stately protocol and decorum where those taking the oath of office would also be issued the relevant instruments and the exercise closing with addresses by the outgoing and incoming prime ministers and the Governor General in that order. The speeches of the first two must be nationalistic and patriotic, purified of the venom of party politics while that of the Governor General finishes by declaring the new parliament and government officially in place.
Now to those who see this as just useless standing on ceremonies, I beg to differ. But even if it were, if changing of the political guard at the highest level is not good enough reason to stand on ceremony, then tell me what is. Here we are talking about the installation of two of the three key arms of the state super-structure, the legislature (parliament), and the executive (government). They would ceteris paribus be the CEOs and managers of our country for the next 5 years with power not only to govern, but to make and change laws as well. This is serious business indeed.
But the real issue is not the ceremony, it is what it symbolises and what it is intended to foster. As regards symbols, it would demonstrate that our change of government is a smooth and orderly exercise of a mature people. It would show to the populace that opposition and government are in a civilised democracy just the right and left hands of the body of the state and they must work together in its interest. It would be a symbol that the parliament, state and people of our country are a one and indivisible whole irrespective of party politics. Finally, it would symbolise our conscious effort to maintain civility in our practice of politics and governance.
If the symbolisms outlined above are important (to my mind they are), then the concrete benefits are even more significant. In the first place the revamping of the electoral laws in this way will ensure that we know the type of people occupying political office and their assets at the time of entering and on leaving parliament. It will set a precise date for elections as well as for the first session of the new parliament. Elections’ date would stop being a prime ministerial toy. It will give John Public a chance to hear who are the intended ministers before they take office and they could seek to effect change if they think this necessary.
Finally, SVG will have put in place a much more advanced, civilised and democratic electoral process than any other English-speaking Caribbean country, thus setting the example for the others to follow and play yet another role in ennobling our Caribbean civilisation.