Democracy works only if the people are involved in it to make it work. The soul of demo- cracy (people rule) is free and fair elections and so the mandate of those elected must be undoubted. Unfortunately in the last elections of 2009 there is doubt over what actually happened and a feeling by opposition elements that they were shortchanged
Vincentian born GCH Thomas (1911-1994), wrote the thought provoking book ‘Ruler in Hiroona’ which was published in 1972. This classic West Indian tale is about a very charismatic unemployable “smart man” named Jerry Mole who rose through the labour unions to the height of political power on a fictional Caribbean island of Hiroona, became totally corrupt. As time passed and eventually dramatically fell from grace. I have read the book twice and been properly amused once, because the second time got me thinking about it’s message. At a point in the book, the main character is recruiting candidates for the elections and is about to influence another semi-illiterate into his ranks someone he can control.
He speaks to him this way “Ben forget the idea of reading and writing. There is nothing in the law to prevent a downright illiterate person from voting or from running for election, or from being appointed a cabinet minister if he is elected. All you need to do is scratch something that looks like your name: and any illiterate adult can do that with a few hours practice, there is nothing to prevent us putting up a candidate as dumb as hell….the democratic idea of one man one vote is bull sh…; but for people like you and me it is good sh..”
At another point, “After all you have the Civil Service to lean on whilst you play boss to the civil servants, humiliate them, and favour and corrupt those of them who flatter you.”
GCH Thomas in the first pages of the book speaks out on Adult Suffrage in the West Indies. He writes ‘Out of this milieu of constitutional advancement a new type of leader emerged – a leader with a sort of Moses complex, who appeared to regard the masses as oppressed Israelites….it encouraged the masses to put vague, charismatic considerations above intelligence, solid achievement and even integrity in estimating the worth of some of their political leaders.’ In. other words charm over substance.
Universal Adult Suffrage was introduced in Waitikubuli in 1951 giving persons of at least a certain age which was once 21, but during the Patrick John administration in 1975 changed to 18, the right to be part of choosing their government. It is termed government by the people and of the people. What makes Adult Suffrage work is proper registration of all and only of all eligible to vote in accordance with the rules.
After twelve or more general elections, the voters list is still seriously flawed and it is shamefully easy for anyone to come in from anywhere in the world and simply use a name perhaps of a homeless, sick or dead person on the register and be allowed to vote. This is crucial as we have seen how one vote can determine a seat. In 1985 the electoral list numbered 45,018 and 33,565 voted in a population of 72000. Twenty four years later in 2009, the list numbered 67,223 in a population of 70,000 with just 36,883 casting votes, which is a more than 47% increase in the number of voters on the list, but actual voters rose by a mere 10% over 24 years. So where have all these people gone? In 2009 nearly 31000 did not vote. The likelihood is that they do not even exist or have gone to live somewhere else.
Overseas voters whose names were still on the list after 20 years absence walked in to the polling stations and voted last elections, then next day boarded a plane and flew away.
Political parties cannot be allowed to play with the registration process or elections are a waste of time. Those who believe they benefit from it today will have a rude awakening when they find out nothing lasts forever.
In the 2005 Merina Williams Chief Elections Officer’s report she recommends ‘The introduction of electronic generated ID cards before the next election.’ The next elections came and went and still no ID cards. There can be no ID cards unless the government wills it because this needs funding from the national treasury and so far neither the flesh or the spirit of this administration is willing. ID cards can help level the elections playing field but the strange thing is that the system allows that one of the players on the field is the one who pays the referee.
But if the soul of the democratic system which is a parliament comprising members who are freely and fairly elected is flawed then there is something rotten in the State which can only spell troubled times ahead.
Below is an audio version of the above column.