COMMENTARY: Do we need an opposition party?

PM Browne speaks during parliament (file photo)

By Vellie Nicholas-Benta

Well, the question should have been, “Has the Westminster First-Past-the-Post system been working for us”?

Or, even this one: “Do we need political parties or a novel form of government—non-party oriented—where the eligibility/suitability of the individual candidate is assessed by a duly constituted body—a creature of the constitution?”

The fact that winning parties do not necessarily command the popular vote is a matter which should not remain just a moot point. The fact that gerrymandering (manipulation of electoral boundaries) still persists evidences Sir Arthur Lewis’s view that a democratically elected government does not mean instant democracy.

In other words, an uncompromised electoral process does not automatically guarantee good governance. And with the evident flaws in the Westminster First-Past-the-Post system, I think the time is ripe for a general overhaul to include the complete separation of powers in all the jurisdictions in CARICOM.

I believe that the existence of political parties perpetuates the old colonial divide and rule tactic. I mean, why isn’t the system one where ALL concerned can come to the table to deliberate on nation-building? Political parties create and fuel a ‘them against us’ mentality.

Political parties, by their overt and covert machinations, effectively destroy the very ideals of patriotism, good citizenship and humanism. Political parties breed political tribalism that thrives on blind allegiance and intolerance. Party sympathisers are mere ostriches who rather not see the foibles and wrongdoings of their parties.

My point is that our Caribbean Civilisation, as seen in all its institutions and political systems, currently espouses as its own vestiges of our colonial past that inhibit our progress. The archaic, repressive laws on the books, systems of government and education are all still modelled, for the most part, on that of our colonial masters. In fact, the wheels of the much-maligned Caribbean Court of Justice are being greased by the very same archaic colonial laws! How’s that for forward movement?

Based on personal observations of judiciary and parliamentary machinations locally and regionally, I reasonably declare that political parties have defeated—wittingly and unwittingly—the ideals of objectivity, patriotism and impartiality. Opposition parties have generally opposed for opposition sake, many times displaying blind allegiance at the expense of the greater vision for cooperation and inclusion.

The resounding defeats of opposition parties in the most recent general elections across the Eastern Caribbean have violently rocked some political apple carts. Doubtless, the hallowed halls of parliament and justice have been sent reeling by the impact. But the invisible elephant
in the room is the very flawed First-Past-the-Post system.

The fact that opposition parties have been soundly beaten, rejected by the electorate give credence to the fact that the unrestrained voice of the people transcends constitutional boundaries. The voice of the people is an unwritten constitution! Ask England! They have left us a system that seeks to cage our very thought but their very own encourages transparency and unfettered flexibility. Just see how robust, uninhibited and open their debates are.

So, do we need political parties or oppositions by extension? Political parties are created and operated based on the general provisions stipulated by the constitution. They fit into the machinations of the electoral process. Political parties are the spawning grounds for the members of the legislature. The executive is taken from the legislative branch. The executive is guided by the Attorney General. The Attorney General appoints the Chief Magistrate! The Chief Magistrate is a member of the judiciary.

How can we therefore claim that the three arms of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary) are independent of each other? How impartial can the Executive be when the Leader of the Opposition is not part of that decision-making body? How independent can the Chief Magistrate be? Clearly ALL three arms of government are intrinsically entwined. Now, juxtapose that against the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the CCJ and you discover the genesis of the electorate’s fear of that final appellate court.

And that fear is justified. Trust has to be earned. Corruption has to be nipped in the bud (of the CCJ). Justice must spring—or seem to spring—from the small and high courts in the various jurisdictions as the wheels roll towards confidence in the CCJ. An alternative to political parties is needed to engender a new national consciousness, unity for progress. Politics without political parties is possible.

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  1. Anybody reading this article with red/blue glasses on WILL miss the point! Emancipate yourselves from partisan political slavery!

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