POLITICAL parties should aspire to use this election season as an opportunity to adopt a forward-thinking approach to campaigning. This means formulating carefully considered positions and retreating from flash-in-the-pan election goodies, slander, and divisive rhetoric. The launch of the UNC’s campaign on Sunday was a sign that fulfilling such aspirations will be challenging.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s job is to hold the Government to account. This includes giving voice to concerns being raised by constituents, no matter how difficult they are to hear. However, her claim of a conspiracy – involving the highest levels of governance – to tamper with the election process is a serious allegation. Such an allegation should not be made lightly.
So much so that one must question the Opposition Leader’s judgment in choosing the political platform as the forum for this allegation’s ventilation. If Persad-Bissessar has information, she has a duty to take her concerns to the appropriate agencies such as the police, the Office of the President and supranational bodies that monitor the integrity of elections internationally, such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth and Caricom.
That said, in a system of governance in which the reach of the Executive is so pervasive, the Opposition Leader may well have assessed the best course of action was to go public. Yet this country’s history has shown attempts to raise concerns about electoral rigging have simply pushed the eventual outcome in the ruling party’s favour.
ANR Robinson’s concerns over voting machines and his “no-vote” campaign paved the way for a PNM whitewash in 1971's election.
Perhaps what the political parties should address is the need for reform of the voting process; the first-past-the-post system; and proportional representation. The question of fixed prime ministerial terms should also be returned to the table for precisely the reasons alleged by the Opposition Leader. As should the need for the Elections and Boundaries Commission to be a fully autonomous body.
The reappearance of children on the hustings on Sunday was also a reminder that while it is always good to see youth involved in the democratic process, we’ve yet to develop standards to regulate how parties treat children at public events.
Regarding Persad-Bissessar’s eye-catching promise of 50,000 jobs, it would be useful for her party to spell out its plans for achieving such a goal.
Too often, campaign promises are made without a roadmap for how these measures will be achieved. All parties in the election should be asked to do more than simply promise nice things. True, parties should not be forced to give out trade secrets. But in the democratic spirit of full transparency, they should present a detailed set of plans. And then trust the population to decide.