Our Readers' Opinions
February 2, 2016
Whither goeth our democracy? – Part One

by Oswald Fereira

We have just come through another election campaign and from a distance, all that I have read says it was very acrimonious. Some reports indicate that the country has sunk to lows never seen before. So, it is time to perhaps reconsider what a democracy really is or should be, and look at the journey of our democracy to its present day, and think about how we should take the democratic process forward.{{more}}

It is difficult for me to write this series, because I am the second cousin once removed from Ralph the Prime Minister and I am the third cousin of Jennifer Bennett Eustace; all three of us are descendants from Emmanuel DosSantos and Joachina Corriea, original migrants from Madeira. I am also related to Cecil McKie, as my mother is the former Amy McKie of Park Hill. Cec, ask Aunty Carmen (Greenaway) about your Park Hill McKie cousins, including the DeFreitas boys, Marcus and Dougie, their grandmother was a Park Hill McKie as well. I am also second cousin to Senator Julian Francis via the Texeiras. My writing may offend them all, perhaps some more than the other, but I am not writing for or against or on behalf of any politician, regardless of their stripe or familial relationship. Let me state that I have no political ambition whatsoever. I am not affiliated with any politician or party in SVG or in Canada for that matter. I am quite happy with my life in Canada and I have no intention of returning to SVG for any reason, including politics, so no one should read that into this series. This series is directed at the general population of SVG as a whole and many people are likely to be offended, just as much as other people may agree with my observations, comments and suggestion. My hope is that it starts a lively discussion.

Let us start by looking at what is democracy. Democracy is a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. In its simplest terms, democracy is a government “of the people, for the people, by the people”. It is a government of the people in that representatives from among the people stand for office in the hope of being elected to serve. It is a government for the people as the government is supposed to serve the entire populace, regardless of their political affiliations. It is a government by the people because the people use their franchise to vote a government into office and that government holds office until it is voted out and a new government is voted in by the people. Democracy is based on the principle of one man one vote and the vote or ballot is secret. Democracy centres around “the people” and not the politician. Power flows from the people to the leaders of the government that holds power, only temporarily through. The government, those in office, hold office at the will of the people. The people collectively is the boss, not the politicians, although we let them think and act as if they are. The will of the people is supreme.

A democracy is pluralistic. A variety of views are allowed and the people have the absolute right to express their views and to support whatever view they choose. If the democracy is based on a system of political parties, there can be as many parties as the people so choose and are willing to support. Each party has the right to air its views without intimidation and every citizen has the right to support any party or candidate of their choosing without intimidation or retribution. It is important that women and minorities participate fully, both in politics and civil life.

In order for a democracy to flourish, there must be a high degree of tolerance and mutual respect within the society. Democracy demands polite debate and since no one view is considered wrong or inferior, the society must be willing to agree to disagree and exist in harmony. Participation in the democratic process must be peaceful, respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and individuals. Every citizen must respect the rights of his or her fellow citizens and their dignity as human beings. No one should denounce a political opponent as evil just because their views are different or opposite. We must not become so convinced of the rightness of our own views that we refuse to see any merit in another position. Citizens must talk to each other and exchange ideas. We should not talk down to others or mock them for their choices. No one should be intimidated into supporting any one view or party and no one should be punished for the political choices they make.

In order to be a government “of the people, for the people, by the people,” the people must be constantly part of daily governance. People should join political parties of their choice. Political parties should meet regularly with their membership, both at the constituency and national levels, even when they are in the opposition. People should be willing to bring forward ideas for debate. Political parties must be willing to accept all motions passed by their membership and bring them forward as party policies and from there enact them into laws for the betterment of the people. People should not be satisfied just to make a ton of noise during an election campaign, wear the party colours and fly the party flag, vote, then fade into the background until the next election. There should be a strong local government, so that day-to-day decisions can be made at the local level on behalf of the people.

So, does democracy always work that way? Of course not. Democracy is a concept that takes various forms, just as the English language spoken around the world varies from region to region. In the same way that we have local vernacular in English, we have those same variations in democracy worldwide – democracy is basically what we make it, except that we may not be making it what it can be for the betterment of all. In many cases, democracy ends up being dominated by two main parties in a healthy rivalry. In other cases, the two dominant parties become perennially adversarial, split right down the middle, resulting in very unproductive rivalries among the citizenry. In other cases, one party dominates and holds on to power decade after decade,­­ by whatever means and the democracy becomes akin to a one-party, oneleader state, as in Zimbabwe. In many cases, there is no system of local government.

Is democracy always a government “of the people, for the people, by the people”? Of course not. In many cases the people vote in a government and abdicate rule to the elected officials of the majority party. The result is government by the few, an oligarchy. In other cases, where the oligarchy is dominated by a strong ruler, that ruler becomes the party and the government and we end up with a one-man rule or an elected dictatorship with the ruler only consulting the people at election time to legitimize his rule.

The next article will cover democracy in SVG during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Hold on to this article for future reference.