SO June 6th is D-Day! Of course I don’t mean that commemorative day in 1944 when thousands of Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France for a major offensive against the Germans. Instead I’m referring to the date set for the next general elections in Saint Lucia.
With the electorate about to decide in a few days who will govern them for the next 5 years, it would now seem a bit late to present a wish-list for political consideration, especially since both major political parties have in some measure already revealed their intended plans and policies to the electorate. For that reason, I will instead present a post-election wish-list, as we are all too aware that ideals often change after a general election when the reality of government sets in.
Remember the big changes Barack Obama promised on the campaign trail prior to assuming office? Back then, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising to deal with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, to amend the Patriot Act and to close down Guantanamo Bay.
Now almost nearing the end of his second term in office, Obama’s version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. As America’s 44th president has learned so painfully throughout his time in the White House, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to translate heartfelt sentiments from theory into practice.
There is no denying that the dire state of Saint Lucian politics since Independence has bred a generation of cynics. Today it’s increasingly hard to look at the news, let alone contemplate it deeply. A silent minority are both dumbfounded and disgusted at how deeply polarized and tribalistic Saint Lucian society has become. I am personally appalled at the “Us vs. Them” mentality, which has often pitted friends and families against each other. It appears people have been programmed to believe that the benefits their political party can deliver are literally a matter of life and death.
Sadly, through the internecine political campaigns and the never-ending media coverage of such exchanges, politics has been depicted as hostile, uncivil and above all, a zero-sum game. I am personally sick and tired of the name-calling, the rubbish talk and the character assassination which continue to trump enlightened and informative debate.
Further, I am blown away by the way in which we seem to treat politics as a vicious game. It’s all so insane and surreal. What development heights do we really expect to achieve with this prevailing mindset? Why do we refuse to see and understand the correlation between positive and inclusive politics, and development?
On account of the unfortunate political realities in our nation, the first item on the next PM’s list of priorities will have to be “political reconciliation and national healing”. For there to be any form of national reconciliation and unity, there must be compassionate and courageous political leadership. Only statesmanlike political leadership can address and prevent the usual occurrences of social injustice and discrimination after a hotly contested national election. I do sense an intense yearning for leadership that will stop all the bickering and make everyone get along irrespective of race, colour, political affiliation, social or economic status.
I implore the next government, in the name of peace, unity and love, to reunite this rapidly disintegrating nation. Lest we forget, the national anthem urges our people to “Live united, strong in soul and strong in arm. Justice, truth and charity, our ideals forever be.” Likewise, our national pledge reads: “With God as my guide, I pledge allegiance to my country, Saint Lucia. I proclaim that I will serve my country with pride and dignity and will defend it with vigour and valour in the pursuit of excellence, justice and equality for all.”
Are these simply empty words or will we provide the leadership this time around to divert from this perilous path which we are treading? The development and progress we yearn for will remain a pipedream if our nation continues to be divided along political fault lines.
Perhaps after the election, we can start the process of political reconciliation and national renewal by inviting former political opponents to join in any new government. Just imagine the power and impact such a gesture would have on the collective psyche of our people. Again, like I have said previously, only by example can great leaders mold unity and consensus. Civic society organisations also have a role in setting up crucial structures to facilitate dialogue that could provide post-election justice, healing and reconciliation.
A new government must commit to building strong communities through effective local government and to improving the infrastructure and appeal of the nation’s commercial centres. That includes having a clean, dynamic and reinvigorated capital city which we can once again all be proud of.
I expect a government that will make more creative use of fiscal policy, despite the present constraints, to stimulate SME business development, export growth and job creation. Currently faced with double-digit unemployment rates, the need to create jobs is one of the major pressures in the economy, just as there remains a need to foster a more suitable environment for the development and sustainability of small businesses. It would also be great to enhance communication between the government and the private sector so they can work together and align their policies to improve competitiveness and increase productivity.
I am calling for government policy that will enable and create a support system for the local arts, or a programme that will provide opportunities for our thriving community of creators in the realms of music, visual arts and literature.
Saint Lucians are beginning to believe that they can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice and the police force to ensure security and safety. We ignore these critical issues at our own peril. Further, given the rising levels of civil disobedience and vagrancy as well as the declining public security and environmental consciousness, perhaps the time has come for the establishment of a special department for social and civil order. Above all, it’s about time the true wealth of our nation is reflected in its healthcare system.
These are all critical areas a new government will need to prioritize going forward. So either we muster the courage and leadership this time around to get these basic things right or we’ll all fall through the cracks of a politically fractured nation.
For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.