Ignoring the law
Today we return, as we suspect we will have to from time to time, to the 2013 general elections, and in particular the mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure they were free and fair.
As we stated prior to the announcement of the date of polling by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, it is clear that our election rules have not kept pace with the technology that is so pervasive today. Fortunately for the system, it would appear that neither party exploited the gaping holes.
For instance, while our rules are very specific about “canvassing” on polling day, there was really no mechanism in place to stop either major party or all 68 candidates from texting all their voters between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. if they felt it would assist them.
By our reckoning there was also nothing to stop the parties or candidates from pushing electronic messages to constituents all day on election day, particularly if those messages originated overseas. It would appear that neither of the parties and none of the candidates opted to test the system technology wise.
As far as traditional election approaches are concerned, however, it would appear that the candidates and/or their parties were not in the least bit bothered by rules that required them to remove election messages before 6 a.m. on polling day. And on this score, while both parties are guilty, it appears that the Barbados Labour Party has been particularly flagrant in its disregard.
There are still scores of utility poles all around the country bearing the posters of candidates and even more the red cloth wrappings that were introduced by the Bees in the latter half of the campaign. To some, it might appear that the only harm done by the continued presence of these advertising items is the sense that they are littering the environment. We beg to differ.
In the 2008 elections the Democratic Labour Party flouted the spirit — if not the letter — of Town and Country Planning regulations by erecting billboards without permission. The BLP protested, but soon recognised the effectiveness of the ploy — the law must follow certain procedures prior to enforcement, and by the time that process has been exhausted the elections would have been over.
So what was the response this time around? The Bees set up even more and larger billboards, earlier than the Dems. How far will the parties push next election if rules with teeth are not implemented?
On another note, the first to speak about offering money for votes this election was Prime Minister Stuart — and it would be reasonable to conclude from the content and tone of his speech that he was referring to operatives of the BLP. We would wish to let the Prime Minister know, in case he does not all ready, much earlier in the day our news personnel saw enough suspicious activity in a number of urban constituencies to suggest the practice was widespread and involved both sides.
In fact, our recollection of the 2008 election is that invariably when this accusation came up it related to the DLP — although we concede that Stuart was neither Prime Minister nor party leader at the time.
Again, our position is that while we may not be able to definitely finger any candidate or party operative this time around, the preservation of democracy requires that specifically drafted rules, with appropriate penalties, must be put in place. As the stakes get higher the urge to push the rules even more will get stronger, and if the systems are not appropriate to suit the times we will always find ourselves looking back and complaining.
Finally there is the matter of party shirts, with all kinds of slogans, that are clearly in violation of election laws. We are not sure, as we have said before, that the shirts are in themselves a problem — but unless we have a difficulty reading, we have to accept that they are illegal.
If they are to become the norm, then amend the law so that our law makers are not automatically law breakers. In any event, it would appear that the only ones who are fooled by the shirts are the party “leaders” themselves, for if the numbers wearing these yellow and red shirts each night meant anything, then voter turn out should have been close to 100 per cent.
Maybe in 2018 the parties will recognise that if you give a man or woman a free shirt it will be taken, but clearly it does not mean he or she will vote for you — or vote at all. So change the law, make it legal and continue to fool yourselves.