The People Have Spoken … or have they?
Submitted by Tee White
Following the unprecedented Barbados Labour Party (BLP) 30-0 victory over the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the general elections, an often heard statement from both winning and losing candidates is that the people have spoken. But does an analysis of the election results support this claim?
According to CaribbeanElections website, there were 255,833 people registered to vote in the 2018 election. Combining data from VOB and Caribbean Elections, I have calculated that 153, 547 people actually cast a valid ballot. Of these, 112,249 cast a vote for the winning BLP. In other words, 44% of registered voters voted for the BLP while 56% did not. This could hardly be described as “the people have spoken”.
If David’s statement that “A manifesto is a bunch of promises designed to woo an ignorant electorate. The real business begins as far as managing the economy” is accurate, then the situation is even more dire. Since not only are we dealing with a government elected by a minority of the population but there is also the very real likelihood that many of those who voted for the winning party have been deliberately misled. It is difficult to understand why in the light of this reality, we continue to insist that we have in our country a democratic political system, by which I understand government of the people, by the people and for the people. Would it not be more accurate to acknowledge that we have a fundamentally undemocratic political system that we have inherited from slavery and colonialism but to which our fore-parents through numerous sacrifices have added some political rights that we enjoy, including universal adult suffrage?
From a constitutional point of view, sovereignty, or supreme power in this system, lies in the hands of the queen of England. Through the royal prerogative, she has the absolute power via her representative, the Governor General, to dismiss any government elected in Barbados and even to dismiss the entire parliament, as happened in Australia in 1975. Added to this is the fact that the promises made by the parties vying for power have no legal force and so once Bajans have marked their x on the ballot paper, there is nothing they can do to force a government to carry out its promises nor prevent it from doing things which it never mentioned in its election campaign. Through these arrangements and others, ordinary Bajans are left disempowered and marginalised from the decision making in the country.
Something else is needed. In the same way that previous generations of Bajans had to work out how to end the iniquitous system of slavery and then how to win various political and social rights, including formal political independence, our generation is faced with the task of shaping political arrangements in our country that empower the mass of the people and end our marginalisation from political power. We do not need to emulate anybody else’s model as we can think for ourselves. What if we ended the system of party government and political parties existed solely to politicise the society and to advocate for different approaches to solving the problems we face? What if the electorate itself set the government’s programme before each election through extensive discussion of the issues that needed to be dealt with, in this way becoming informed about the reality of the situation and the complexity of the problems that needed to be solved? What if the programme once agreed had the force of law and the government’s performance was continuously evaluated against the targets set within it? What if the candidates themselves were chosen not by political parties but by citizens bearing in mind the skills sets and experience that successful completion of the government’s programme would require? What if elected representatives were held to account for their performance by accountability committees made up of citizens with interest and expertise in particular areas? What if all government finances operated under a system of extreme transparency in which each citizen had a right to information on how all public money was collected and spent?
Just putting it out there.