If only our elections were rationally based on political credibility and integrity, the state of our young democracy would be much healthier. That is, if only the ethnic roots in our adversarial politics were not so divisively embedded.
But then that too is democracy – identity and the constitutional freedom to choose.
Let’s take the current example – the continuing debate over the 1997 and 2021 reports on our children’s homes.
There are specific dates, government action or inaction recorded, authoritative declarations, witness statements, etc, but each element is noticeably, in fact, inevitably subjected to varying perceptions of motives and political prejudice.
Now I don’t see this as necessarily malicious, but as a historical feature of our politics of ethnic insecurity, a feature often cooled either through a political majority or judicial decision.
In fact, that is how the issues surrounding our children’s homes would likely be settled. Hence the necessity of having a credible, independent judiciary and the Constitution (especially section 13, which says that all our laws should be reasonably justifiable “in a society that has proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual”).
Credibility is defined as “a person or statement being believable or worthy of belief.”
But what we consider “worthy of belief” is often mentally screened. Now, I am not trying to be difficult, but we hear what the PNM is saying, what the UNC is saying and even what the PDP, the MSJ, the PEP and the NTA are saying about the children’s homes. Not all the same things.
What helps build political credibility is the extent to which the politician or political party demonstrates integrity. The first cousin of credibility, integrity is defined as “moral uprightness; honesty, wholeness, soundness.”
Look around to see which politician or party has integrity or not, and then judge whether that politician or party is “worthy of belief and trust” or not.
Or will ethnicity determine that? Former PM Basdeo Panday was pragmatic: “Politics has its own morality.” Pressed by the adversarial ethnicity, there seems a moral level above which our politics cannot go.
You see, it takes sacrifice, sometimes great personal sacrifice, to acquire integrity as a politician or party. A party member may have to resign. A leader may have to fire a party member or speak the truth and lose the election.
All this means that our party politics is not likely to get much better. We will have to learn to live with it, like the virus.
Letter-writer Steve Alvarez asked “Who will save the society?” Dr Errol Benjamin condemned “shamelessness and hypocrisy” in our politics. From Cedros, Michelle Dymally Davis, obviously angry, wrote: “We have reached the point that we are eerily silent to the continued corrupt politics that is accepted as governance while politicians continue to live outlandish lifestyles. Blind loyalty,” she claimed.
While the Constitution and several of our state institutions do require reform, it is often too easy to place all blame for state inefficiency, incompetence and corruption there.
In fact, much of the inefficiency and corruption arise because of character blemishes such as greed, political arrogance and abuse of our democratic freedoms.
It seems both the political system and personal character weave a tangled web of corruption. It is easier to change the former than the latter. In fact, it is said, to test the real character of a man, give him power, the political aphrodisiac.
To help deal with such character challenges, in early times Plato advocated “philosopher kings,” rulers who neither need nor crave any personal riches or status but are disposed to serving citizens honestly and fairly. However, this and the stratified society he advocated were attacked for being “anti-democratic” and elitist. Everybody did not have “an equal opportunity,” etc – which today leaves us wondering whether democracy has the seeds of its own destruction.
The point in all this is that while our constitutional democracy provides basic freedoms and wide discretion for politicians, these have been widely and continuously abused. So citizens’ expectations for a higher level of ethical and moral conduct in our party politics may well meet with disappointment.
How can a political culture change itself?