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Politics Vs Democracy in Antigua & Barbuda: Critical Challenges

Politics ve DemocracyIn many countries, politics is viewed as a necessary evil or inconvenient necessity; not so in Antigua and Barbuda (A&B). There is natural affinity; even addiction between people and

politics. It’s in the life blood, part of the savoir-faire; perhaps, even in the water we drink. But interestingly, democratic ideals seem to be falling victim to the way politics is practiced.

While on the upside, voter turnout averages in the 80th percentile is a democratic envy, on the downside, thinking through political prisms seems to dominate most spheres of human interaction in A&B.  When a citizen’s first instinct towards any act is the political message it sends, and/or the political cost he/she is likely to pay, that cannot be healthy for a nation’s democracy. Citizens must be free to live and breathe outside the shadow of their nation state’s politics. Rigidly conscripting the motif - politics is a way of life, robs existence of finer beauties and substantive values, but that’s another discussion.

This essay probes four present political tendencies in A&B and analyses how they seem to undermine growth towards a more healthy democracy. Specifically, it examines institutions vital for sustaining a buoyant democracy and asks: Have they been impeded or compromised by the robustness of the politics?  In other words, has electoral politics in A&B colluded to produce its own paradox?  Where the very thing elections are designed to preserve (democracy) is being weakened?

Of course, democracy in A&B, like other regional island states, is young and emergent and will only ripen over time. So the intention is not to cast aspersions but to identify immediate areas that can sharpen and strengthen democratic ideals. Also, observations made here are no doubt equally applicable to prevailing conditions in other Caribbean island states (and even further afield).

The Electoral Commission: Even sporting bodies now boost and safeguard respect for results by ensuring neutral referees officiate. Should any less integrity and sanctity be expected when citizens of A&B vote? The electoral commission is guardian of the process and referee of the game. Question: How neutral and unbiased are persons on that commission? Electoral commissioners can hardly be conceived as impartial if they are flag waving avid supports or known sympathizers of either party.


Enthusiastic political principals will always think it in their best interest to have trusted lieutenants on the ‘inside’, or even heading the commission; but such arrangements do not belong in a healthy respectable democracy. For governance purposes, public confidence must attend election outcomes. Further, if and when system failures arise, lines must never be blurred (in the public’s mind) between genuine bureaucratic malfunctions and deliberate facilitating of strategic political designs.  

The courts will undoubtedly decide validity of the Opposition Leader’s claim that 4200 people voted in 391 minutes in one constituency, something he termed an arithmetical and physical impossibility.  The larger point though is that traction for such claims is directly related to public confidence in authenticity of election results, something greatly enhanced (and democracy advanced) if and when the electoral commission is known to be honestly nonaligned, fiercely unbiased; and sanitized of all and any party activists/loyalists from either side of the divide.

The Media & Commentariat:  Politicians constantly seek to shape arguments in order to win public support; but truth content of these arguments is often multi-hued as arguments themselves. The role of the media in a credible democracy is public education. Therefore the media is not simply to relay messages from politicians; but also to investigate and reveal the truthful content of those messages. To what extent have media houses in A&B been faithful to their democratic function of educating public insight? Are they sufficiently analytical and exculpatory?  Or are they victims of the robust politics? Have they exchanged their role of public educator and become part of propaganda armada on either side? How and from where will objective public insight emerge?

And where is the punditocracy, the objective commentariat that fosters evaluation of contending ideas? Where is the forum that says here are the UPP and ALP positions?  Where is the voice that says as citizens this is how you can think about it from an Antiguan and Barbudan perspective? Where is that voice that walks down the middle?  Where is that voice that stands in the gap and speaks for Antigua and Barbuda’s interests without an aligned agenda? Sadly, the intelligentsia appears to be open or shrouded mouthpieces for either side, to the extent that there are little if any, for that force both sides to improve their acts for the benefit of country. Hopefully the promised University of Antigua and Barbuda will provide for more objectively evaluated public policy insight. In the meantime, there remains an urgent need for a strong, objective, compelling down the middle forum in advance of democratic ideals.

The Church:  Traditionally, in most democratic jurisdictions churches choose to remain above the political fray; and instead serve as society’s moral conscience.  This allows churches to fully leverage their unique role of exerting an efficient spiritual suasion that forces political players to be mindful of the moral, ethical and valuative aspects of their conducts and policies. This is a sacred democratic staple churches must not and cannot take lightly. If however, public concerns appear to attract advocacy or silence from churches based on political color, then efficacy of the church in playing its role in the democratic process is severely compromised.

To what extent have churches in A&B bartered that standing of unique spiritual suasion for the grandiosity of political platform appearances and/or beneficial handouts of state privileges? To what extent are churches in A&B openly or tacitly signalling political alignment? To the extent churches adhere or violate the standing associated with their unique role, it is to that extend they also loose respect in the minds of political players over whom they are supposed to exert spiritual suasion for societal good; and it is to that extent they also abscond on their agency as an institution charged with advancing democratic ideals. Perhaps it not too late for churches to unglue themselves from the stigma of political colour, regain the moral high ground; and recapture the potent effect of spiritual suasion.

Voter Bribery: One unique thing about the practice of voter bribery in A&B is the people’s honesty, i.e. they honour their take, and politicians know it. This means the people’s goodness is their own downfall. Truth is endemic practices of cold hard cash for votes on one hand or institutionalized voter buyouts, on the other hand, come with a price.  Responsible obligations politicians have toward constituencies are replaced by either wanton neglect or gestures of arrogant beneficence. It’s a simple equation really; people already paid are owed nothing further.


Voter bribery hurts democracy not only in terms of the injustice felt by those not on the take; but also in the way they are made to feel their unsold votes don’t count.  Additionally, critical infrastructure and social development often lag behind or are completely ignored, well after the effects of shambolic individual takes have worn off. Raw unabashed bribing of voters deals a crippling effect to democratic ideals.

Considerations: I started by alluding to the existence of challenges is testimony to the robustness of the politics within A&B. However, robust politics should be made to ameliorate and not impede pursuit of a healthier democracy. The ubiquitous adage “only in Antigua” is certainly a healthy way for the country to laugh at itself; but is hardly a viable substitute for the sterling will required to move beyond talk to committed purposeful action in addressing these challenges; and purposeful action will require mature collaboration, between and among political players, and critical institutions.

I am well aware that like most things political there is most likely a colourful history to the areas of challenge identified. Temptations to be unduly revisionist however must be avoided; instead energies should focus on the way forward. Origin of the challenges is less important than collective pursuits towards cultivating a healthier post modern democracy in A&B.

Raymond S. Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive leadership behaviour specialist. © 8/12/09. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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3 Comments In This Article   

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fed up at the psuedo intellectualism 25 aug 09

#3 Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun » 2009-08-25 11:59

Why was this article written?...just to show that someone has an understanding of a process and has the ability to express those views using words found in the English diction which may not be readily used by the majority Why do we contribute to these forums? i asked a question of the good doc, and not a response up to this day?....As paddy often says; These Caribbean nations have so many phd's and Ba's and God knows what other letters and all that they are good at is writing an English letter. We in antigua do not even manufacture toothpicks, and we fighting over who spent all the money and how...We are stuck in the idea of available money rather than sustainable money. I am so fed up of my elders...i smell martyrdom in my future.
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Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun

observation pt 2

#2 Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun » 2009-08-23 15:38

cont'd
bearing in mind that its our behaviors and our control over their expression which determines success or failure of anything we establish to govern our selves. I have suggested that we depolarize our perception of our relationship to these political parties and what they stand for on our political process; bringing our understanding to one that is not controlled by but in control of; removing the voluntary subordination to the functions of these parties whether in the right or in the wrong, and replacing it with a consciousness of self and prosperity without this unholy dependency on these party systems...what say you? where do we begin.
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Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun

observation

#1 Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun » 2009-08-23 15:28

We have identified the problem areas. Where do we begin to eradicate them? in my estimation the organizational problems begin with our behavioral evolution, how we are cultured to think of ourselves and our institutions, our value to and for these institutions, and our personal responsibilities in behaving in a manner which will support the growth of these institutions; we have devolved, way down the rabbit hole of human interpersonal behavior and collective advancement. in the interest in "forward movement" i would like to hear from you, how and where in the societies institutional structures, we may begin to reconstruct modes of function which will assist in the redefinition of our collective behaviors. ......cont'd
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Bandelee Rametsu Meryamun

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Dr. Raymond S Edwards


 Dr. Raymond S. Edwards is a Columbia University trained organizational psychologist & international development expert; as well as a New York state certified staff development and training specialist. His consulting services include Cabinet retreats, Executive Team workshops and Organizational Change seminars. He is also an ordained minister, qualified educator, prolific writer and motivational speaker.

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