Can’t Eat Our Cake And Have It!

Image of Ronald Sanders

THE Barbados Labour Party (BLP) victory in the recent Barbados elections has set off a region-wide debate about the efficacy of Caribbean Democracy.

Some, including the eminent Caribbean affairs columnist Sir Ronald Sanders, go as far as advocating constitutional change in every Commonwealth Caribbean state where the Westminster electoral model is in effect to guarantee there is at least a credible parliamentary opposition leader following every election where a party wins all the seats.

Image of Ronald Sanders
Sir Ronald Sanders

Sanders’ prescription is tailor-made for Barbados, where a winning BLP candidate has ended-up as Leader of the Opposition.

His critics argue that Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has no party or organized political base in Barbados and therefore has no legitimate popular democratic credentials. The bishop, on the other hand, says his decision not to join the BLP’s parliamentary team is not a betrayal of his party and BLP supporters who voted for him, but a move to ensure the important office of Leader of the Opposition is filled.

Sir Ronald recommends constitutional changes that will bind candidates to the parties on whose ticket they contested and provide for the power of recall by voters.

However, there are some flaws in the proposals being tabled.

First is that too many still behave like this is the first time a Caribbean political party has won all the seats in a general election. In Grenada this past March 13, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) won all the 15 seats contested – and for the third time.

Another flaw is that it defies the very spirit of representative democracy for the position of Leader of the Opposition to be held by a non-elected person.

There will continue to be much debate about the Barbados affair. But, all in all, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has nothing to lose. The bishop swears to God that his move is no betrayal. Besides, with an original BLP MP in the Opposition Leader’s seat, the DLP is very effectively locked out of both houses of parliament.

It also works out well for the BLP that this Leader of the Opposition is also the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Previous holders of the post have been mostly former prime ministers and/or ministers of finance, who have hardly initiated or supported moves to investigate or question how public finances were handled during their tenure. In Barbados today, however, nothing is to prevent the elected BLP bishop from going that way.

The suggestions of constitutional change, as they stand, will be tinkering with the system without looking at it overall. Some propose Proportional Representation, but even here too the opposition can have a majority of one vote in the parliament, as was the case recently.

Voters in Grenada and Barbados did not vote for there to be no opposition. In both cases too, the number of persons who voted against the winning party, or did not vote at all, is too sizeable to suggest there is no opposition to the respective governments, or that they have the support of the entire population.

Our ‘First Past The Post’ and ‘Winner Take All’ Westminster electoral system determines election results and defying or altering it is, in full effect, an expression of no confidence in the model itself.

We either have the Westminster System or we don’t. We can’t boast that it’s the most democratic electoral system in the world and then reject it when we don’t like the results. We just can’t eat our cake and have it.

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