Our Readers' Opinions
August 14, 2009
We the people – In the Guiding Principles of the draft Constitution

by Oscar Allen 14.AUG.09

Read aloud the 1st verse of Chapter 2 of our draft Constitution. Especially the 1st line: “The people are the true political sovereign of the state: power belongs to the people.

I like it. It says clearly that “The People Govern/reign, not the Queen, not the Prime Minister, not the Parliament, not the Cabinet, not the Chief Justice, but we, the people. That is the core principle of governance in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

This chapter 2 of guiding principles has 20 sections, but only one other section (16) mentions “the people explicitly. Three sections (6, 11, 13) refer to us as “Every person”. It is not because of any linguistic undersight by the drafters, it is the bias or orientation of the document.

So while the 1st chapter has a brief statement about “The State”, and “The Constitution”, there is nothing to denote who “we the people” are. Is that important? I think so. We who want a new constitution in 2009 are not the same people who accepted the 1979 constitution. Some of our leaders are the same, but even they evolved. We have taken many steps forward, some backwards and we are less innocent about our world. Our awareness of class, gender, the environment and ethnic issues are generally more developed and nuanced. It is we who are to shape and determine this constitution, should we not assert, affirm and demand our place in this First Law of the land. Chapter 2, verse one is not enough. But let us not be stupidly critical. After all, this chapter 2 bears the title “GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY”. It tells us what to expect from political society-the state, its broad manifesto. Although it begins with “The people”, it really means “they the people”, not “We The People”, as partners in social governance, this chapter – and it seems-, the rest of the draft constitution is dedicated to “WE, THE STATE”, and where the state organs-especially the political elite-stand, and where we lie. This concept of what a constitution is does not dignify the people who govern it.

In The Constitution of Parliamentary Democracy

In our draft Constitution, political parties dominate political life as never before. They overthrow-let me back off a bit. Generally, many of us are uneasy about our party politics. We observe the division it causes, the injustice it normalizes, the arrogance it spawns in some legislators and party supporters, the indecency of its language, the fear and self censorship it cultivates, the shutdown if creativity and the uncritical sycophancy it supports. One British writer has noted that “in modern times, the struggle for place and power between contending parties is the greatest reality in British political life”. In SVG, at present, the same struggle is the ugliest reality in our politics. As we prepare to conceive and formulate a news constitution, one obvious objective would be to put in place a politics that dilutes the antagonism and strife of party politics. One proposal would have been to make Parliamentary Assembly have 2 houses, chambers or units; one made up of constituency representatives and one made up of civil society or sectoral (non party) representatives. The sectoral house or chamber, while being a “cheeks and balance” assembly would give more concrete, contribution to discussion on matters that need careful, not knee jerk, responses. The intellectual and moral poverty of party based parliamentary interaction shows itself up from time to time.

The draft Constitution is travelling the road of making party politics and party struggle/war more intense, more dominating and likely more fearsome. Sections 6, 68, 98 and 100 of the draft constitution together strike a coup against democratic politics, and commit all round murder of the citizen as a political activist. Perhaps the warning shot fired in section 6 where the emphasis is on the right to engage in party politics.

While section 68 qualifies every citizen as eligible to “run” for a seat, section 98 explicitly authorizes political parties only, to hand in candidates for election. Section 100 announces that only political parties are eligible to nominate “Party” representatives in the proportional representation game. The citizen, The People can engage in constructing Parliament only through parties. That is State Policy, not the result of actual politics. The fact that our political parties do not have an internal democratic tradition makes it even more a danger to have them dominate our political life. The Constitution is their Bill of Rights and our independent death certificate.

What is the place of “We the people” in the draft Constitution? Perhaps we should look at what is the pace of our new political ever lord, the political party.

The Political Party becomes a new organ of the state, sole shaper of the Parliament

The Political – not the people – chooses the Prime Minister – Opposition Leader

The Political Party chooses the non elected Assembly members

The Political party excludes independent citizens from running for elections

The Political Party rises to new heights without corresponding (social) responsibilities.

I want to point out that in its 2005 report to Parliament, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) posed this question (in para 171) “If civil society can constitute 3/5 of the membership of … ((the CRC) why should civil society not constitute one of the permanent components of governance? Why should the running of the country be left practically exclusively to political parties?”

Political society in parliament chose to take the road of party dictatorship over we the people. It makes me want to say “No” in the referendum.