THE GOVERNING Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration last week put on a show of force in capital city Kingstown to celebrate its 18th successive year in government, a local record.
While the sea of red was flooding the city, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), still smarting from yet another rebuff in its court battles, staged a press conference to express its dissatisfaction at its failure to get the nod of the courts in its ongoing election petitions battle.
Therein lies the biggest political hurdle to the development of our country and its people. In advertising its victory activities,the ULP stressed that “We beat them at the polls, we win them in courts”. While this sounds attractive to the politically partisan, it does little to advance the understanding of the political challenges before us and to prepare us to face them.
If anything, the ULP seems to be descending to the level of the NDP. It was not the ULP on trial in the election petitions, nor was it the Supervisor of Elections, nor the courts.
What emerged is that there are deficiencies in our electoral system, our political system as well, which need to be addressed. All the crap about “cheating” cannot mask this and we will not move forward as a people until and unless we recognize our fundamental problems and realize that it is in the interest of all, ULP, NDP and whoever, to have them resolved.
It is not just the 18 years in office of the ULP that we have had this problem of political division. There was the PPP vs SVLP rivalry of the sixties, the underlying basis for today’s division since both existing parties are successors to the sixties generation.
But it is the intensity, the political vitriol spewed out daily bordering on hate, that is the most worrying.
The ULP blames the NDP for this, with some justification, but it must recognize that as the government, as the party which spouts progressive change and Caribbean civilization, it MUST resist the temptation to resort to methods which have nothing to do with our advancement as a people.
It has the responsibility to take the high road and not just the easy road to political victory.
As I indicated last week, there is no disputing that whatever its shortcomings, there have been economic and social advances during the ULP’s four terms in office. The records are there. It is more than coincidental that tomorrow, April 13, the 40th anniversary of the 1979 volcanic eruption, the equipment for the geothermal project will begin to be transported to north Windward, a significant development in the thrust to diversification in the energy sector.
Yet our forward advances continue to be obstructed by backward partisan political practices. These are both stifling and distorting the political development of our youth. Those who are not apathetic but embark on political careers, have yet to impress that they are charting a new direction.
They are too embroiled in the old politics of partisanship and do not seem committed to breaking the old mold.
Even in the media, both traditional and, increasingly, the social media, we are witnessing more and more of the same – a reinforcing of the old divisions, a refusal to listen to alternative views, an intolerance and tendency to resort to personal and political slander. Objective analysis and discussion are shunted aside. Is this helping us or our society?
Where are the voices for an alternative path?
Most worryingly, within the next year, we may very well be hearing the ringing of the election bells. If we do not try to change the atmosphere before then, all the negatives will be amplified in the election climate, the excesses will be justified and each side will blame the other for them. In such a setting, it will be difficult for the winner of the elections to do other than try to satisfy the selfish aspirations of their most rabid supporters. Those politicians who thrive by feeding political ‘red meat’ to supporters will be trapped into continuing the feeding frenzy.
We cannot go on like this for there is no room for the healing process in such an atmosphere. If there has been one area of major weakness of the ULP has been its inconsistency in its political education project. It has an impressive record of political mobilisation, but this seems to be mainly on partisan grounds.
Supporters are mobilised more on partisan than on national projects. They need to be more sensitized to national goals, thus it is not who “win” in the courts that is important, it is what do we do about our electoral, and political systems, and how we overcome the obstacles to much-needed reforms in these areas and in constitutional advancement.
We have to combat the winner-takes-it-all mentality. It does the country no good. Both sides of the political divide will complain that “one hand can’t clap” but are they prepared to put that hand forward? The political road to nowhere is retarding our economic and social progress.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social comm entator.