Value of votes
“To hear the Democratic Labour Party accusing the Barbados Labour Party of buying votes on Election Day is like hearing the pot calling the kettle black! Both parties engaged in the buying of votes on Election Day!” — David Comissiong
So, a small group of people in George Street, and an equally small group in Roebuck Street, hand-picked two persons and informed you that you were required to choose who should be your constituency representative and Member of Parliament from those two persons, and from no-body else!
In addition, the George Street and Roebuck Street groups decided that the two hand-picked persons would not even debate each other or engage in any other process that would truly give you some insight into whether they understood your issues or had any solutions to your problems!
Instead of this, the George Street and Roebuck Street groups decided that they would beg for and accept millions of dollars from rich white (and a few rich black) people, and that they would use this money to stage elaborate concerts, to put up massive billboards, and to deck you out in red and yellow T-shirts.
But that was not all! The George Street and Roebuck Street groups also decided that, between the two of them, they were going to distribute a couple million dollars in hundred dollar bills throughout the working-class communities of Barbados on election day, as a means of buying votes. And of course, they concentrated their efforts on young black working-class men and women whom they felt were vulnerable to such crude bribery.
Sad to say, thousands of black working-class men and women were more than willing to sell their vote for a hundred dollar bill! But what, after all, is a vote really worth in Barbados? What does the act of voting really mean in Barbados?
Well, as we have seen, once in every five years the people of Barbados are told that they have the right to go into a polling station and to mark an “X” beside the name of one person hand-picked for them by the George Street group or beside the name of a second person hand-picked for them by the Roebuck Street group. And that is all!
Of course, some of you will try to challenge me on this by declaring that the Constitution of Barbados permits any number of persons to be put forward as election candidates. But as we all know, that is merely a theoretical right. The harsh reality is that the two-party Westminster-style political system that our former colonial masters imprisoned us in decrees that the only two candidates that are to be taken seriously are the two candidates put forward by the George Street and Roebuck Street groups.
And so, unlike the situation in several other countries, the “right to vote” does not confer upon the Barbadian citizen the right to:
(1) make a selection from a variety of candidates representing a number of the social groups and the ideological perspectives that exist in the society;
(2) put forward proposals for new laws, for new government programmes, or for amendments to the Constitution;
(3) vote up or down, proposals put forward by the House of Assembly for new laws or for amendments to the Constitution;
(4) recall or fire members of the House of Assembly whose performances are extremely unsatisfactory;
(5) have a direct say in selecting the various ministers of Government; or
(6) participate in a serious system of community-based Local Government that is free from partisan control by the Central Government.
Seen against this background of real, participatory, people-based democracy, the once-every-five-years right to mark an “X” beside the name of one out of two hand-picked DLP or BLP candidates is a petty thing indeed. And perhaps that is why so many Barbadians are willing to sell it for a proverbial “mess of pottage”.
My fellow Barbadians, it does not have to be like this! There is no need for us to continue slavishly following a system that has now clearly become dysfunctional!
This system might have worked relatively well for Barbados in the early Adams and Barrow dominated eras, but it is no longer serving the country well. The way the system has evolved, it has permitted our governance structure to become totally monopolised by two incestuous political in-groups known as DLP and BLP.
These groups — as they exist today — are severely lacking in talent, maturity, integrity, idealism, or patriotism, and yet they monopolise all the structures of governance and do not permit the release and harnessing of the many talents and energies that are rife in citizens all across the length and breadth of Barbados.
Furthermore, as the career politicians of these two in-groups lust and struggle for power and positions, they are engaging in actions that are bound to corrupt and subvert the society and its standards.
If we do not summon the will and energy to reform this system of politics and governance — to open it up to wider participation and to give greater say to our citizens — Barbados will continue to decline under the DLP and BLP.
* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party