Electoral Reform: More Reflections
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
August 26, 2022
Electoral Reform: More Reflections

We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), and the wider Caribbean in fact, have earned ourselves the reputation of being “now for now” people, meaning that we get so caught up with issues of the day that we neglect matters of even greater significance when they are not immediately before us.

These are troubling times, especially difficult for the poor and vulnerable. We live under a system of capitalism where the accumulation of wealth is the primary objective and the hunger, suffering and needless deaths of millions are callously reckoned superficially as “collateral damage”.

Just this week the Prime Minister gave another illustration of the extent to which prices are escalating the cost of living not only beyond the capacity of most of us to cope, but beyond the capability of even governments themselves in small nations like ours to be able to provide adequate protection for their citizens.

In such a context, the pressures of everyday life force us to focus narrowly only on the day-to-day issues of survival and, those distractive issues that some in the media continue to raise.

Yes, we have to deal with the issues of survival but we must never ignore the broader issues of democracy since they impact on our ability to mobilize and organize to deal with our pressing problems.

It is that eternal vigilance and never losing sight of the bigger picture which have provided us with the space and the tools to fight to defend our interests. They are vital cogs in our defence mechanism.

Thus, to raise a matter like electoral reform at a time like now, will meet with summary dismissal on the part of most. Yet the issue is one very fundamental to our practice of parliamentary democracy and can be quite contentious at election time.

In fact, much of the pre- and post-election confusion that we have experienced revolve around matters pertaining to the electoral system itself and the conduct of elections. In addition to political confrontation, a lot of time and money has been spent in expensive court battles with little long-term outcome.

It is not just here at home. Over the last month both tiny St Kitts/Nevis and the much larger African country of Kenya have held elections. Both experienced contentious difficulties, interestingly repetitive.

In the case of St Kitts/ Nevis, the difficulties were largely pre-election, the coalition government collapsing after a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, not for the first time, and then stubbornly delaying the holding of fresh elections. Frustrating the will of the people is becoming commonplace in our region.

Kenya is still in turmoil after its recent presidential election, no new occurrence. It seems that every time there is a Presidential election there, the results are hotly contested by the losers, most times resulting in violent political clashes and loss of life. Resort to the courts and external intervention on the part of the African Union has helped to restore some order but by the next election there is a repeat.

In both cases, and numerous others in the Commonwealth of today, the root of the problem is deep-seated, lying in their constitutional arrangements and practice of parliamentary democracy, especially as they pertain to general elections.

This is exacerbated by the tendency to ignore these deep-seated underlying causes and only when we get dissatisfied with election results, to challenge and even explode violently.

We too have had our fair share; election results being hotly contested, on the streets as in the courts on two of the last three occasions on which general elections were held. The practice of trying to call on a virtually impotent Christian Council to “do something” and then criticizing it unfairly for failing to provide a solution is counter-productive.

Sadly, our approach is tantamount to the proverbial “locking the stable door when the horse has bolted.” The conduct of elections, the laws and practices governing it, directly determine what type of government we get and the democratic spaces available to us.

We cannot ignore these issues until crunch-time is upon us, but must find time alongside our day-to-day struggles for survival, to understand the broader issues and to try and influence those arrangements which in the long run determine the outcome of elections.

We shall examine some of these issues next week.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.