OUR POLITICAL system is such that the famous statement attributed to Dr Eric Williams – that if a crapaud in a balisier tie went up for election it would still get votes – has, more or less, proven true time and time again.
The system is such that in a general election we choose a prime minister even though we do not, generally, vote for him or her.
Technically, we each vote for an MP. But the cult of personality and the power of the party are such that it does not matter who this MP is. We eye the bigger prize.
This system remains in place. There are some signs that the days when Dr Williams could make such a statement without contradiction seem behind us. The present general election campaign has thrown up several instances in which it is clear it has been harder to get people to swallow any old candidate so to speak.
The PNM’s Toco/Sangre Grande screening process is a good example. The incumbent, Glenda Jennings-Smith, was first replaced by former cricketer Mervyn Dillon. That move provoked outcry, forcing the committee to hold its hand. Veteran councillor Terry Rondon presented himself.
But the party opted for alderman Roger Munroe, leading to backlash from some.
The UNC, too, has seen its political leader’s decision questioned.
“No Ramdial, no vote,” was the cry of protesters in Couva North who were not satisfied with the decision to drop their MP of ten years, Ramona Ramdial.
But though Kamla Persad-Bissessar appeared unfazed, declaring days later, “Who vex loss,” the fact that people have been raising their voices shows they want a greater say.
Protests, social media, activism – these have helped alter the top-down way of doing things. Maximum leaders can no longer expect their word to be taken as gospel.
But is that enough?
Aside from some unforced errors in screening, high-level party officials have still, so far, managed to get their way, even as the tide changes. Which points to the need for deeper change.
For now, only a handful of elite party officials determine, behind closed doors, who stays and who goes. People might get a chance to vote every five years, but in-between these polls they have little opportunity to hold their MP accountable. That’s a shame.
There was a time when the “right to recall” an MP was a catchphrase in our discussion of constitutional matters. Like the issue of campaign finance reform, we think this topic deserves to be returned to the agenda during the current election cycle.
All parties should clarify whether they feel people should be able to trigger the censure of an MP by way of, for example, a special parliamentary petition.
For when it comes to constituents being unhappy about their MP, it cannot be just a case of crapaud smoke your pipe.