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Politician of the people

Apart from the actual day of voting, today marked one of the most significant days in the general election’s routine for candidates and parties. On Nomination Day, all those persons who are identified by themselves and/or their parties as candidates actually become bona fide candidates.

So it would be safe to say that the race is in fact now on. Those who met the legal requirements will find their names on the ballot paper even if they choose for whatever reason to “withdraw” ahead of February 21.

For the next two weeks the noise of political meetings will intensify at night and most Barbadians, even those who have not seen their representatives for the past five years, are certain to see them, their agents or at least find a note stuck on the door indicating: “While you were out …. was here”.

It is normal, we believe, for electors to determine who they will vote for based on a number of factors. It can be from the simple, “I have not seen him in five years” to some complex analysis of constituency achievements, or lack thereof, or of the performance of the economy.

Some voters may even care little about who the candidate is, instead relying on ages old loyalty to a party to make the decision — or perhaps more accurately, vote the way they have always voted. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on where you sit, the number of persons who take such a position is clearly decreasing, while the number of those who make assessments and arrive at conclusions on an election by election basis is clearly on the rise.

And this brings us to our substantive point — the character or personality of persons who now choose to enter elective politics. While we don’t have any scientific or historic data that would allow us to put our necks on the block, there certainly is an abundance of anecdotal evidence to suggest the type of person seeking political office today is changing.

In many of the cases in our past, persons with a clear community/social background and unmistakable ties to the area they wanted to represent, ended up on the ballot. Their background was such that even if they did not have a national profile, they were distinguished within their communities.

They might have been professionals, like many of the candidates these days, but their connection to electors was marked more by their community connection than the job they held. It would appear now, however, that in so many of the cases, voters are meeting candidates for the first time — or worse, hearing of them for the first time.

We have even the strange situation where from election to election we now have independent candidates who are virtually unknown outside their households. What happened to the concept of an independent candidate, who by virtue of the sway he held in the community, could expect to be listened to, even if not voted for.

We believe that an individual can grow into a good representative, but we have seen enough to also conclude that the poor quality representation some communities have received over the years was a direct result of the fact that the persons elected were not genuine “people persons”.

When individuals choose politics as a career, much like one would choose to be a doctor, lawyer, butcher or maid, representing people can become as burdensome or annoying as any of these. The problem is that unlike the lawyer or maid, they never resign voluntarily.

Today’s national management calls for sophisticated thinking, but it should never be devoid of the sense of community that once characterised those who lead.

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