The whole buzz around the Caribbean is the results of the Antigua 2014 elections. Antiguans woke up on Friday 13th to a new government coming in through a landslide win, which toppled incumbents left, right, and middle. Outgoing PM Baldwin Spencer admitted he never saw this coming neither his supporters who thought they had it in the bag and that the polling of CADRES (Peter Wyckham) giving the ALP 10 -12 sets was flawed, but Wyckham was right on the ball this time. The money spent on the campaign made no difference to the mood of the people who wanted change, which is something the maturity of the Antigua voters has shown over the years. Since 1994, leaders in Antigua have been subjected to the 10 year itch – Lester Bird 1994-2004, Baldwin Spencer 2004-2014 and now 47 year old Gaston Browne replaces him. It supports my contention that after 10 years it is time to change the political leadership and bring in new ideas and talent if the nation is to move forward.
Across the ocean, there is also a buzz in political circles in the USA about the loss in a primary election in Virginia of the incumbent of thirteen years Eric Cantor who had his eye on the coveted House of Representatives Speakership. He lost to a little known challenger named Dave Brat. What is significant to me is that Cantor spent more than five million dollars on his campaign while Brat only had just two hundred thousand dollars to spend. All Cantor’s money made no difference, as the people wanted a change. Now in a US primary election registered voters choose their candidate by secret ballot just like in a general election. It can be open to all voters or limited to just party supporters. It is different in Waitukubuli where either the party leader or the constituency committees choose the candidates. In his gratitude speech Brat said, “We have proven that it is not dollars that vote, it is you”. However, in Waitukubuli, there are many who believe otherwise and that change is only possible if you have the money to do it so a whole lot are prepared to line up for their little share in order to decide who gets their vote.
Leblanc and Patrick John won elections with little cash when in those days of the 60’s and 70’s it was the other side who had the backing of the business community and the upper class and so had all the money to spend. It was a time of the ‘Bouko Rhum’(Cask of Rum) politics when it was common for the poor people at election season to wrestle each other to get to the front line to receive a drink of rum in exchange for their votes. They hardly heard what was going on from the platform speakers as their eyes never left the cask of rum there on standby. The coming of the Labour Party changed that and the slogan, ‘Eat dem, drink dem but doh vote for dem,’ found legs in varied forms. It became the pleasure of the poor to milk the fat cow without selling themselves and their valuable votes and the slogan became a staple of the Labour Party politicians on political platforms.
However, the wisdom of the Chinese tells us ‘We can only go as far forward as we see backward’. Fast forward to 30 years later and the DLP did a complete U-turn and is now the party with a ‘Bouko Rhum’ mentality under other fancy names and is giving out handouts for votes in small packages to the poor and substantially larger packages to the rich and better off among us. Therefore, it is no surprise that the bishop stepped up to the table to receive his half million-dollar package a few months before general election. Bishop Malzaire was falling all over himself to praise the PM and offer him God’s rewards in return for his generous offer. It reminds me of a time when the Catholic Church actually sold ordnances better known as prayers written on pieces of paper which as a boy I would go the Presbytery to buy for my Granny whenever she felt like singing, “Its me , its me O Lord standing in need of prayer.” He should have known better than to be a star on an obviously political show set up to buy the votes of us Catholics. This was not just a news release but a public all-stars presentation designed to benefit the Prime Minister’s re-election bid and all done in the name of what was declared, in 1215 at the 4th Council at the Lateran Palace in Rome, as the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic only true Church of Christ also known as the Bride of Christ. It is quite difficult for me to picture Christ the bridegroom standing alongside the Prime Minister stretching out his hand to receive a cheque for $500,000 to repair his church. There will always be righteous wise ones to condemn my supposed sacrilege and tell me that it is the body of believers that is the church and it is we the believers who are symbolically married to Christ so the money is for us, and to them I say dream on. Yet there is more to this. In the future and in particular during election time, the best intentions of the bishop and priests will be closely scrutinized for dark motives in light of his fawning response to this gift effectively creating a division among the political red and blue members of the church. The Bible has some nasty things to say about those who divide the body of Christ and as was said by Bishop Tony Palmer an envoy of the Man of Change Pope Francis, ‘Diversity is divine but division is diabolical.”
The Labour Party ‘money for votes’ policy belies their popularity boasts but it has also attracted those who come to the table carrying a large spoon. They treat the party as an ‘all you can eat buffet’ returning again and again to refill their plates. Because they benefit hugely they are out front to tell us that it cannot get any better than this. There are those in the diaspora who cannot wait for the next elections to get a free ticket from Skerrit for a free holiday to come to vote for him. All of this leaves we the people like pilgrims on a journey with no destination, scratching without an itch, laughing when no one tickles us only waiting for a ‘bon tan’ election campaign every five years to go to the polls and vote for whoever has the money to pay for the party and the drinks. The poor believe that the Labour Party is the same as of old; the clever use the party to change their fortunes from how it was of old and in the final analysis like a pack of goods, our votes are bought and sold as it used to be of old.
Nevertheless, there is another way. Rather than bargain votes for money let us force our politicians to debate issues on a platform where we all can judge their truthfulness and performance. If the politics of winning by money is not stopped in a hurry, there will be no change of government in Waitukubuli for the foreseeable future. We will not be like Antigua but like a clock with its pendulum stuck in the middle going no place, unwilling to make use of the fresh and gifted talented people who present themselves to us. It is no stretch of the mind to see that sooner rather than later political parties are going to sell our nation to the highest bidder including drug lords and terror outfits just to find enough money to compete. It is time to return to the real purpose of democracy which is to ensure the freedom to change bad governments, and reject corrupt politicians. It is more than time to truly have government for the people, by the people, with the people instead of the new process which is today to win government by the money, with the money and yes -wait for it – for the money.