R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
May 31, 2019
Electoral reform, referendum and Brexit

Much discussion has been generated locally over the contentious meeting of Parliament two weeks ago, when a whole day was wasted in debate on side issues which led to a dead-end on an attempted Opposition motion on electoral reform. At the end of the day’s proceedings, nothing but hot air came out of the matter.

I must compliment eminent local Queens Counsel Mr Parnel Campbell for his very pertinent public comments on the issue and I was particularly impressed by his creative use of the slogan “Show me your motion”, last Monday night to highlight the issue. There is little that I would like to add here, for as usual, most of the responses seem to be very partisan in nature, either condemning the Government for attempting to stifle debate or berating the irresponsibility and immaturity of the parliamentary Opposition.

Important though those issues might be, it would perhaps serve our interests collectively if we were to give more focus to the subject matter itself, that of electoral reform. Last Friday’s editorial of the SEARCHLIGHT raised this issue squarely and I would like to add my two bits to that discussion.

In the final analysis, it matters little whose motion was before the House, who should have spoken first or last or the wording of the motion to be put before the House. The infantile behaviour of some Parliamentarians did little to enhance the quality of the debate. What is at stake is much more serious than that, given all indications that political tribalism is rushing us headlong on a collision course with potentially very grave social, political and economic consequences.

Neither parliamentary debates (nor cussing), court cases or media wars have been able to bring us any closer to resolving our differences on major political issues. This includes the conduct of general elections. At the rate which we are being led, we may well find ourselves in violent conflict leading up to the next general elections, and possibly on election day itself and afterwards, depending on the outcome. Will that do us any good?

We may differ as to what aspects of the electoral system ought to be addressed, or the extent to which any such matters may affect the conduct of elections or frustrate the democratic will of the people, but we cannot ignore the fact that we need to review the governance system for holding general elections here.

Given the prevailing political climate, it will not be an easy task for any suggestion emanating from one side of the political spectrum is bound to be regarded with suspicion by the other. Yet, it is a national responsibility that we cannot ignore, there has to be a meeting of minds, an acknowledgement of the importance of the national good and willingness to give and take if we are to find solutions.

Furthermore, electoral reform is not a matter just for our Parliamentarians and politicians. It touches on the fundamental right of every voter to exercise her/his franchise freely and consequently it is a matter of public concern of the highest order. As such therefore, not only should civil society organisations be involved in the debate and in finding solutions, but their participation is critical to avoiding a political locking of horns which can have detrimental social consequences. It is an URGENT NECESSITY.

A decade ago, we were in the process of concluding a comprehensive national discourse on constitutional reform, including reform of the electoral system. Proposals in this regard were included in the proposed contents of a revised Constitution to be put to the electorate. However that multi-party, plural approach was derailed in the run-up to the referendum of November 2009, the political parties choosing to make the referendum a test of their political support.

The result was degeneration from informed discussion into politricking, lies and deceit, obscuring the true nature of the process. The rest is history and the result disastrous. By comparison, we need to look no further than what happened in the United Kingdom with that country’s own referendum on Brexit in 2015 and the total confusion embroiling that country today.

We cannot go down that road again. We have to learn the lessons of history and apply them to our current experiences. Confrontation, rabble-rousing or stealing a march on opponents can never be the answer. We must all work to find amicable solutions in the best interests of fairness, democracy, peace and stability.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.