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The Heart of the Matter

October 09, 2001

For the third time in 2 years the crisis in the political system has broken out like an ugly bobo threatening even more dangerous consequences.

Again, the issue is being focused on what a single individual does or does not do.

Opinions are flying left, right and centre all based on conceptions of pure law and preserving the status quo.

Political dissent, like all aspects of social disagreements and clashes of opinions, is being treated as a law and order issue by all sides.

On the one hand, those who claim that they are about changing the landscape, about eliminating dictatorship and introducing new politics have as the cornerstone of their activity, fighting corruption in the sense of punishing perpetrators of such perfidy.

On the other, those who do not even want that limited change and exposure of the rotten moorings of the present social and political system and process are shouting "coup d'etat!" or advancing legal opinions about why this or that cannot be done.

Whatever one's opinion, it cannot be contested that the crisis of our system of governance has become chronic.

Why have we come to this sorry pass?

More importantly, what do we do to get out of it?

Let us look back and come to the considerations of the present Constitutional issues.

This is an ex-colony in which a system of rule by external forces was established under the crown colony system in which the "natives" (ex-slaves and indentures) were denied any role in the political process since rights, including political rights were defined on the basis of property and privilege.

Up to 1946, ownership of defined amount of property and ability to speak and write the colonial master's language were criteria to deny the right to vote and women were put in the status of apolitical non-beings.

It was the struggle of the workers fighting for various rights and for an end to the colonial domination that led to the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1946 and eventually to Independence in 1962.

The electoral system was founded on competition among political parties which represented the specific interests of the colonials and later the planters, the traders and emerging capitalist manufacturers (as far as they could be called that).

This system of party politics as we call it has been perfected to keep the majority of the body politic, who had fought hard and long for universal participation in the electoral process, out of power crudely at times and then in more refined forms.

Under the Independence and Republican Constitutions this rule of parties representing the specific interests of sections of the rich and powerful and protective of the general interests of them all, to the exclusion of the people has been further moulded.

What has now emerged and is causing difficulty for some of the very politicians who operate this system is the fact that the financial oligarchy is no longer satisfied to have its representatives in charge of this unrepresentative democracy but under the watch of an "ex-trade unionist" have installed themselves more directly in the government and ruling party.

It is this monopoly on politics among the local element of the financial oligarchy, which is terrifying some, and at the same time beckoning others to come forward to be its "best representatives".

This crisis has reflected itself in a series of governments by default from the NAR in 1986, then the PNM and now the UNC, while the use of race to keep the mass of the body politic divided has assumed greater and greater importance.

In its most recent reflections the crisis has focused on the Constitution, its written and unwritten rules.

What has been revealed and is again exposed in this episode is that the survivals of the medieval conceptions of the right to rule and reposing of sovereignty in a single office, which permeate that highest law and the practice and organisation of the political parties, are a major obstacle to any really representative democracy.

Take the present issue.

A political leader "commanding" the majority support in the House of Representatives becomes the Prime Minister. That parliamentary dictator can cling to the position of "elected" leader of the country even as the majority support he "commands" dissipates or even disappears, if we are to interpret the provisions of sections 76 and 77 of the Constitution literally and narrowly as we are being urged. What an absurdity!!

A more liberal interpretation, trying to decide if such a situation constitutes an "occasion for the appointment of a Prime Minister", leads us to that minority leader being replaced by another who now "commands" the support of the majority of "representatives".

This is not a matter of pure law and for largely political bias disguised as legal opinion I most respectfully suggest contrary to the opinions expressed by my learned seniors.

Several of our legal luminaries, some of whom are trying to protect privileges gained under the present regime, have tried to reduce this essentially political problem to one of which interpretation based on narrow construction of the provisions one wishes to choose.

The fact that the polity is once again reduced to being mere spectators at a soap opera being played out among so-called representatives, who are not accountable to the electors, not selected by them nor can be recalled by them, is ignored.

The President of the Republic is now called again to assume the role of drinking bush tea for the fevers of others in this scenario as the "politicians" feel no obligation even to return to the vote-catching exercise of elections.

The minority Prime Minister probably based on nothing more than egotistical pique refuses to resign and depart the scene. The leader of the Opposition refuses any move to go to an election ever fearful of defeat after his inept leadership of his party's last election campaign.

So what are we left with?

A set of rules, which if narrowly interpreted, allows rule of the minority in its most literal and absurd sense to prevail or more liberally interpreted allows the change of hands on the trappings of elected leader.

What this situation demands is that the body politic agitate for and ensure that this political process which excludes them is renewed and redefined so that they, the real majority of society become the sovereign; that elected representatives are made really accountable to them and subject to their directions and recall and be voted for upon selection by the very body politic rather than by parties whether by a maximum leader or more liberal process.

Those who are saying that this is not the real issue and that what is needed is merely a short-term resolution of the problem by either going to the polls or appointing the new commander of the majority in the House are really demanding that the chronic crisis of a democracy hamstrung by the survivals of medieval concepts of privilege and the control of the financial oligarchy continue and periodically erupt in increasingly more dangerous episodes.


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