THEY say there is more strength in numbers and I often tend to agree with that maxim. But sometimes one’s personal strength lies in him or her being able to step out on his or her own and demonstrate what true leadership is.
It’s no different when it comes to politics, where people who are asking others to follow them must first prove to their followers that they, too, can be a leader despite the obvious hierarchical structure of a political party to which they belong. But, in theory, leaders lead.
In an age where voters are agitating for more sound debate from their politicians, one would have thought that politicians would be taking the lead in offering themselves up for scrutiny by the very people they expect to leave everything behind for on election day.
Apparently, while many political pundits are deeming the next general elections a very crucial one – as they have been saying for the previous general elections – the political maturity being clamoured for by the populace will remain in its infantile stage for a bit longer. The more some people go up, they never seem to grow up. Or maybe they’re just too comfortable shouting across aisles and on political platforms.
Last week’s hosting of a public forum aimed at providing political candidates for the Castries South constituency an avenue to dialogue with the constituency’s youth proved just how devastating a blow a candidate can be dealt when the wrong message is conveyed.
Organized by the Castries South Youth & Sports Council, the public forum was about giving SLP candidate, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, and UWP candidate, Mary Isaac, a platform to outline to the constituency’s youth their overall plans for young people in the constituency. Sounds simple, right? Think again.
One would think that with young people accounting for a large percentage of the vote that the candidates would not let up the chance to avail themselves for such an opportunity. However, Isaac did not appear at the forum, citing the Council’s misstep in not confirming with her that the event would be rescheduled in her favour instead of the original Wednesday slot that proved challenging for her.
The Council did acknowledge that it erred in that regard and I can only conclude that Isaac was within her right not to appear. After all, the due diligence lay with the Council to inform Isaac as to any changes made right up to the start of the event. It would have been interesting to see two tough-as-nails candidates on the same stage sharing their views and trading their rebuttals, though.
But one of the reasons cited by the Castries South-East incumbent MP, Guy Joseph, still has me questioning whether some politicians still think the youth of this country are all about hand-to-mouth politics, the kind of politics where politicians give the people only what they think they deserve.
Among the reasons cited by Joseph in his response to the Council that sent both he and SLP candidate, Joachim Henry, an invitation for a similar forum was that he could not commit to it because his party’s manifesto has yet to be published and thereby he could not speak to the projection and vision he has for the constituency he has been serving for nearly ten years.
As I have always said, I will never disrespect any politician – or anyone else for that matter – through this column or elsewhere. That’s not my role as a journalist. However, I find Joseph’s excuse for not meeting the youth nothing short of disrespectful.
Granted that the two-term MP did indicate in his response to the Council that he needed more information about the format of the public forum, I find the manifesto excuse inexcusable. Surely, Joseph, who never hesitates to state his dissatisfaction about the poor state of roads in his constituency, could have found a few more reasons to put Henry and his party on the spot for. Alas, last evening’s public forum was cancelled.
The mere fact that Henry had confirmed his participation in the public forum has already struck a raw nerve with many young people, including the National Youth Council (NYC) and those young people who did show up for last Thursday’s public forum at the Ciceron Secondary School. They are already expressing a pattern of indifference by the no-show parties to their concerns.
In fact, Henry actually indicated that he had no qualms outlining his plans for the Castries South-East constituency to the moderator and those who would have showed up. Unfortunately, that was not the Council’s original intention.
As many young people expressed last Thursday evening, the no-show by Isaac sent the wrong message, especially when word spread that night that she was seen making the rounds in the constituency while the meeting was in progress. No one seemed to want to buy the fact that she did not receive confirmation from the Council. Many felt that had she really wanted to be involved in the process she would have made every effort to do so. However, Isaac’s reason seems more reasonable and credible than a party’s manifesto not being launched.
My maths might not be as impeccable as Pythagoras’, but something tells me that too many of our political candidates are still stuck behind their party leaders. Too many of them do not have an individual voice insofar as even giving a statement on what they bring to a party without shaking the party’s foundation. I’m not talking about collective responsibility here – I’m talking about politicians seemingly having no clue as to what their people’s needs are and, even worse, doing a poor job of finding out.
Going house to house to press flesh with people is one thing but being in a controlled setting where questions are posed by a moderator and even anonymously is a different kettle of fish. Politicians need to be able to have their own vision for their constituency and not leave it to the dictates of their political leaders and manifestos that are launched on the eve of general elections. If you asked me, political debates among political hopefuls should be mandatory exercises and not be seen as “kwass for de people”.
As one of the many people who has consistently advocated for political debates in this country, I was elated that the Castries South Youth & Sports Council took the lead in trying to organize these public forums. I thought I could have preserved those moments so that our politicians would not continue being chastised for their unwillingness to share the same stage with their political adversaries in the interest of the people. I thought that we had turned a sharp bend on the road to political maturity.
I also thought that the Council was able to achieve what the media organizations here have been trying desperately to achieve for eons now without success. Now that I think of it, I expected too much from those who keep offering the Saint Lucian youth great expectations. Or maybe I just think too much about people and progress.
With months to go before the next general elections, the onus is on political parties to encourage their candidates to meet with the people in town hall meetings. Keep the partisan campaign trail meetings, though. However, one of the best benefits of having political debates in town hall settings is that they tend to draw in those who vote either party, anyway, but importantly, the undecided voters are still trying to make up their minds.