Reasonings: Democracy under threat?

By Ella Drummond Hoyos
Published January 20th 2003 in Barbados Daily Nation

The Denis Kellman debacle dominated the news last week as what has been whispered about as a dangerous rift on the paltry Opposition benches came to a head by the non-support by Kellman of an Opposition motion in Parliament.

The resulting decision by the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to seek to identify a candidate other than Kellman to contest the St Lucy seat on its behalfrendered uncertain Kellman’s political future.

The parties may have recourse to the law courts to settle the matter.

While the events of the past week may have provided fodder for the political grind, it is hoped that the people of Barbados will seek to reflect on the current state of government, the future of Barbadian democracy and the effectiveness of the current elective system in securing government by the people.

Under the Barbados Constitution, Parliament is charged with the responsibility to make laws of the peace, order and good governance of Barbados. When a parliament comprised of 26 Government members and two Opposition members, and when those two members are not united in their vision, citizens must ask themselves whether the necessary adversarial exercise that is essential to the Westminster system is not compromised.

The question of whether such a strong government could ignore completely the wishes of a vast number of its citizens must be examined. Has the electorate by the overwhelming majority it vested in the Owen Arthur Administration compromised the system of checks and balances which are designed to secure the greatest good for the largest possible number of citizens?

The continued adherence to the first past the post electoral system in Barbados, as in other Caribbean territories like St Lucia and Jamaica in recent times, has resulted in legislatures which are heavily weighted on the Government side and very meagre Opposition Benches.

It appears that the time is right for Caribbean citizens to seriously consider whether the first past the post system, by which it is the number of seats secured by a party that counts, serves the best interests of a modern democracy.

It may well be that there is a need to revisit the idea of proportional representation which traditionally has been viewed as fairer and whereby parties receive a share of the seats proportional to the number of votes it secured in an election.

It is a feature of adversarial politics that if the electorate is dissatisfied with the performance of government, its policies or outcomes, it has the opportunity to replace the government in the next election.

Given the current political landscape in Barbados, it appears the electorate will have no choice in the next election but to return Prime Minister Arthur and his party to power. While this prospect may excite a portion of the electorate, it will only breed apathy, frustration and unrest.

The members and supporters of the DLP need urgently to reorganise and rebuild that party. Edmund Burke writing in the 18th century said:

“The first principle of party was to put men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution.

“Revisiting political socialisation in Barbados via the important influences of family, education, occupation and geographic location is a necessary starting point.”

In the context of Barbados the role of the mass media in presenting meaningful research and analysis could be utilised to impact political perceptions and values.

Non-governmental organisations, unions, interest groups and the Civil Service, must see themselves as having an important role to play in safeguarding the future of Barbadian democracy.