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Let peace prevail

Whatever the outcome of the February 21 general elections, it will almost be unquestionably a free and fair exercise.

That Barbadian general elections have primarily been void of violence is testimony to the system of governance in place and most importantly, the confidence which the electorate has in the process of choosing a government.

Though the Caribbean region has had its share of political violence in the post-independence era, political and electoral violence in Barbados is basically unheard of.

The bloody side of politics has reared its ugly head at various points of history in neighbouring islands such as Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, to name a few. There was a time when invariably violence accompanied not only general elections, but also municipal elections in Jamaica. Sadly, this was a state of affairs often encouraged and promoted by politicians themselves.

In the 1976 election campaign in Jamaica more than 150 people were killed. In 1980 the Caribbean watched with horror as one of the bloodiest regional election campaigns unfolded in Jamaica where more than 800 people were killed, including the People’s National Party’s candidate and former MP Roy McGann.

Of course, a number of social factors underpinned the violence, ranging from abject poverty and frustration to manipulation of the masses by politicians eager to seize control of the government. Thankfully, the process since then has not witnessed such bloodshed in that most beautiful of Caribbean islands.

In Trinidad and Tobago the failed coup of 1970 and the 1990 parliamentary hostage seizure by the Yasin Abu Bakr-led Muslimeen once again demonstrated that any political process is best served when all citizenry have a part to play, rather than a few armed with rhetoric and rifles making decisions for the majority.

The mid-to-late 1970s in Grenada was marked by civil strife, the marginalisation of people and the lack of confidence in the electoral process. This eventually led to the overthrow of Sir Eric Gairy, the ascension of Maurice Bishop to the office of Prime Minister in 1979, and then his eventual assassination in 1983. It was a case of the bullet winning over the ballot and then the bullet winning once again.

These Caribbean examples have been replicated across the world to horrifying effect in countries such as Senegal, Uganda, Peru, Pakistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka, to name a diverse few. Invariably, in most instances much of the unrest has its origin in the masses not being at the forefront of the political process, not benefiting from that process and not trusting the efficacy of the political system.

Barbados has been blessed with enlightened leadership from both of its main political parties in its post-colonial history; from Errol Barrow in 1966 to Freundel Stuart in 2013. Despite the individual angst that might arise from time to time with respect to our perception of that governance, Barbadians have generally trusted the political process and the inbuilt checks and balances that make it work.

The ability of our political leaders to traverse these 166 square miles, unprotected, by day or night, to interact openly with John Public and to carry their political messages to every nook and cranny of the island without fear that the colour of their shirt could lead to reprisals, speak to a political system that works.

This prevailing state of affairs also highlights the benefits that can accrue when a populace is generally well educated and feels included in the island’s decision-making processes.

Our political leaders, however, can never allow themselves to become complacent. Nor should the people play loose with their right to be a part of their country’s governance. Apathy is perhaps one of the greatest threats to working democracies.

We do not foresee any disquiet in this or any other subsequent general election, under the circumstances that have prevailed since 1966. A violent, disorderly general election is simply not the Barbadian way.

Long may this last.

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