R. Rose
November 20, 2015

Bolting the stable, but has the horse gone

After weeks of harping, I am relieved to hear of the signed commitment of the political parties contesting the elections to the Code of Conduct proposed by the Christian Council.

While not enforceable, it certainly has moral value; though, such is the nature of our politics today, that it is doubtful whether morality counts for much.{{more}}

One cannot help but wonder, however, has this adherence to the Code come too late to have significant influence on political conduct during the elections? With the stakes as high as they are, and the parameters already marked out, precedents set, behavioural patterns established, will the signing of the Code be a restraining factor?

Where elections are concerned, this campaign has not gone too badly. Certainly, given the intensity of the rivalry between the major contenders lasting for over 20 years now, it is heartening that, save for the odd incident, the campaign has been largely violence-free. There have been efforts to “lift the campaign” and to focus on proposals for development rather than personal attacks. Yet, all the more predictably, there has been resort to the traditional mud-slinging, including the infamous “sex tapes” incident.

It is as if we are ignoring the critical juncture at which countries like ours are poised. How could we be devoting so much time and energy to some encounter, real or staged, between a prominent political leader and some unfortunate young woman, at the expense of the myriad other issues facing us? It also brings into focus another critical development, that of the use, misuse and abuse of the internet. This is an unforeseen factor which can make nonsense of all our electoral regulations.

How to stop people using social media to campaign and solicit votes on election day, something that is supposed to be illegal under our current laws? But those laws assume the use of posters, meetings, T-shirts and the like, all of which are easy to trace. Not so a text message as one is about to enter the polling station. And think of the damage and confusion that can be caused election night by mischievous persons spreading dangerous rumours in the midst of a tight race?

Those ought to be the issues occupying our attention, along with plans for the future, not allegations about sexual activities and private lives. The absence of organized face-to-face debates is not helping, for such engagement, as distinct from platform speeches, would give us a better assessment of at least one side of the prospective candidates.

One perpetual issue that keeps surfacing every election is that of allegations of bribing and vote-buying. At the heart of this is the financing of political campaigns. This is a matter which needs addressing. Political campaigns are no longer dependent on speeches at public meetings. Each outing has become a big affair with competition for the “biggest crowd,” forcing parties to provide all kinds of attractions and freeness.

It is a matter, considered so important that the Organization of American States (OAS) commissioned a study and made the results and recommendations available to all parties in this hemisphere. Among its conclusions was one that “the obligation to keep political parties permanently operating and dealing with expensive election campaigns created the need to raise large sums of money, thereby making the political system more vulnerable to practices such as illegal funding, influence-peddling and in some cases the penetration of narco- funding…”, (by drug dealers).

In countries like ours there are no rules governing the financing of political campaigns. It gives those in office a decided advantage, but those on the outside, whilst criticizing, make no effort to effect changes, hoping to get in office and work the system to their advantage. Nor are we, the electors, any less guilty.

We accept that elections must be a multi-million dollar show, a huge entertainment exercise in which those who lack resources have no place, even if they have the most realistic programmes for the development of our country. We don’t even want to hear about the problem; all efforts must go towards getting the vote. When are we to take this sacred right, for which so many of our ancestors sacrificed, seriously? Where is the commitment to take firm action for real change post-election?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.