POLITICALLY, it’s been an interesting week in St Lucia. The “silly season” took an un-expected turn with both major parties continuing to give the electorate peeks into some of the policies and actions they will adopt should they be returned in the coming general election. The big surprise, however, was their plans for constitutional reform.
It started with a spokesman for the opposition United Workers Party announcing to a public meeting that the party planned to set term limits for the position of Prime Minister, replace the Queen as Head of State and legislate fixed dates for general elections. Two days later at the opening of the new parliament the Governor General announced that the ruling St Lucia Labour Party was also planning fixed election dates. It will be recalled that several weeks ago, the Prime Minister had also indicated that he was warming towards that very idea.
We are heartened by the fact that recommendations in the report of the Constitutional Reform Commission are beginning to enter the national political debate in a very meaningful way. But one hopes that the parties are not merely trying some kind of gimmick with the voters with election season in progress. In fact, we would like to believe that these proposals that have now been widely aired will find their way into the manifestoes of both parties and that they will use the opportunity to elaborate further on their plans as the campaign picks up momentum.
We believe that the voters will want to hear detailed positions of the parties on the whole idea of constitutional reform and the way forward in implementing the recommendations of the Suzie d’Auvergne Commission. Voters will want to be assured that whichever party is returned in these elections, pay heed to their demands for changes in the way in which government works in the country and the way the country is governed.
We remind the parties of the Commission’s conclusion that there was “a real hunger for constitutional change” in St Lucia; that “Saint Lucians yearned to exercise more control over their government and wanted more opportunities for democratic participation”; and “that they regarded government as too powerful and not sufficiently accountable to them”. These quotes come directly from the Commission’s report.
We concede that it will be impossible to implement all the Commission’s recommendations immediately or even within a short timeframe. Consequently, the public should be given an idea of how an incoming government would proceed, taking into consideration the Commission’s view that mere “tweaks” of the present constitution would not get the job done. The bottom line is that the people want the power that the politicians have hoarded for themselves for so long. They are “restless” with this thing called government and discontented with politicians and politics alike. It is our hope that the message is heeded.
In the coming weeks we hope to hear more from the political parties on the Constitutional Reform Commission’s report which deals with a wide range of other issues–not just those with a political flavour–side by side with the bread and butter issues that have become so important to St Lucians at this time.
St. Lucians should have no fears about the end result of the reforms being proposed. Concern about the capacity of our little island to shoulder the responsibilities of constitutional change was also aired when we became an associated state in 1967 and again at independence 12 years later. Neither status has overwhelmed us. Above all, the people will have the opportunity to vote for or against constitutional change at the appropriate time.