IT is painfully evident that as a people too many citizens of Saint Lucia of voting age have not properly understood the role of the electorate, except to go and vote every five years. In the interval between one election and the next, it is abysmal to discover how terribly uneducated a very large section of the population is as regards the role and powers of the electorate in the process of governance.
What appears to be happening is that the electorate continues to align themselves to the bandwagon of either the governing party or the opposition party even to their detriment; continuously allowing themselves to be used as extensions of politicians who themselves are bent on using the old tactic of “divide and conquer:” against the people.
This pathetic political culture of ours has held back the development of the country by several years. In the process politicians have escaped unscathed despite committing serious violations of the trust and confidence vested in them by the people. Some have violated even the constitution at times only to be subsequently blindly re–elected by the people. There is currently a great void where instead the people should be a united force with a common vision for the good of the country and for a better future for the youth. It is the role of the people to maintain vigilance, to critique, to appraise and to ask questions of any democratically installed government. This concept, many citizens, particularly party hacks just cannot seem to grasp.
As a matter of fact once elections are over, the priority should not be partisan delineations but the national interest..
Unless parliament is prorogued there is the Government and the Opposition; both involved in the process of the governance of the country– although efforts at bi–partisanship are sorely lacking here. Their constituents are the people whose role is to ensure that their interest is looked after, and that development takes place in keeping with the government’s contract of faith. The oppose also has a contract of faith to oppose, which is not to say “oppose for opposing sake” as they too are subject to the harsh scrutiny of the people and should be able to whip up some manner of coherent and worthy alternatives that the people can seriously consider in the continuum of local politics.
After an election the majority of Saint Lucians traditionally believe that the voters are the ones beholding to the representatives that they “the people” empowered. How ironic. In fact it is the other way around. Theorists such as Edmund Burke believe that part of the duty of a representative is not simply to communicate the wishes of the electorate but also to use their own judgment in the exercise of their powers. He says: it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.” As is known by now, this is the ideal but cannot be left to chance.
As it stands the voters do not even know they have powers and it is their right to demand accountability, to insist on performance and transparency and yes agitate and take civic action when the government is seemingly turning a deaf ear to the vox populi, the voice of the people. Everybody seems to know about the powers of the politicians but very few citizens are ever taught the powers and responsibilities of the people.
This level of ignorance has created a hotbed for politicians to manipulate the people over and over again, as the electorate line up like sitting ducks for continuous punishment. This type of passivity by the voting–age public will not augur well for the future of a representative democracy nor give anything to bolster a healthy climate of governance under the two–party Westminster system – which is what was arguably unwisely conferred upon us, according to some commentators, by the Independence founding fathers of the region.
Abetta Country is of the view that at the core of the perceived powerlessness of the people is the deep–seated misunderstanding of the Westminster system, which has encouraged people to think that they only have a voice once over five year cycles with little or no teeth in this system for the people to rid themselves of unwanted elected officials.
Nevertheless to return our focus on the untapped powers of the people, a case in recent history which can be readily cited is the review of the gasolene and petroleum products by government and the subsequent outcry of discontent by the people about the paltry so–called relief that was dished out to them at the pumps. For once the Opposition seemed to have done the right thing, which was to raise and rally support for the cries of the people by taking decisive action. This action bore fruit. On Monday, February 9, the government after a stubborn spell of defending its position, relented and allowed for a further decrease to a more satisfactory public.
Abetta Country hopes that the people have matured and come to realize that when they undertake their role and embrace their power, instead of playing kissing cousins with politicians, the outcome of governmental decisions and actions will be very likely far more just and fair. We must debunk the thinking that power rests with only the eleven persons on the government side and the six who comprise the opposition. The people are shareholders of that power. The people are not there to unconditionally provide public obedience and deference for parliamentarians. Never supply blind loyalty. Elected officials will be tempted to abuse or misuse their conferred powers should the people give them too much latitude. Abetta Country is hoping that finally Saint Lucians will rise and take back their share of power from the politicians.
By Abetta Country