Push a people too hard and they might just wake up. Like an ant nest stirred by government boots, public opinion has come alive with a bristling energy, creating collateral opportunity out of the Prime Minister’s indecent haste in rushing her Constitution (Amendment) Bill through the House.
A people impassioned is a beautiful thing.
To see the dross of cynicism slip and to glimpse the spark of hopeful longing is at once wondrous and heart-breaking.
For a people to whom the vote is everything, this moment means something. As the citadel of people power, the right to vote for the party of one’s choice approaches the sacred in half-formed democracies like ours where public opinion is routinely neutered by State power that believes what’s best for itself should always be best for us. Such is the nature of a political system based on co-opted, not representative, power.
By pushing too far, the Prime Minister has achieved what Prakash Ramadhar had failed to do with many millions of dollars at his disposal: catalyse the public on the issue of constitutional reform. This is not an opportunity to be missed. It is a chance for people throughout the length and breadth of the land, to start talking and dreaming about the kind of society they want: what it should stand for, how it should work, by what principles and rules, and with what processes to guide behaviour. These, in essence, are the fundamentals of a constitution.
In this context, the PM’s bill should be reviewed for its appropriateness and relevance to the nation as object of our desire. It should also be examined for logic and use of language. Under the Kamla Theory of Mathematics, one from 10 leaves 11 and a minority from a minority makes a majority, magically transforming less votes into more democracy. In the background, disciples of Goebbels plot how to run off with the vote by sowing confusion about “run-offs” within a political party where everyone supports the same ideology, platform and manifesto, and “run-offs” between opposing parties which give third party voters the Hobson’s choice of either voting for a party they do not support or not voting at all.
Add to that the neat sleight of hand, where elected representation in proportion to votes is neatly switched with the offer of selected representation in proportion to votes in the Senate. But don’t think too much about that as yet, because it’s apparently another vaps idea still in development.
In sum, however, the PM’s bill is a miniscule aspect of constitutional reform, tailored to suit narrow UNC interest. As an aside, unless he is planning to run as a UNC candidate, COP leader Prakash Ramadhar should consider the impact of this bill on the COP’s clout within the Partnership as it heads into election 2015. If it passes into law, what will stop the UNC from insisting on its own candidates in every constituency? If the COP refuses to comply and decides to run on its own, there is every chance it will end up outside the top two and be eliminated in the second round, leaving the country at square one, with the UNC and PNM in Parliament, one of them in government, and the rest outside, pounding pavement and waving placards.
As with every plan, reality does not always co-operate. On Monday night, Winston Dookeran demonstrated the power of “No” to change the political dynamics and open up new political space. The political centre which has been shifting from the People’s Partnership and weighing their options, now has something else to think about. With his simple declaration of “No”, the axis of power within the COP immediately shifted away from Ramadhar towards Dookeran. What will Dookeran now make of this? He has the opportunity, if he chooses and has the energy, to re-galvanise a good part of the COP constituency on a new platform. In a three-horse race, how will the UNC fare against the PNM and a new partnership of parties? If the politics evolves in the direction of yet another accommodation of forces, who will run third and be eliminated in a run-off?
It might have taken the PM one night to railroad her unstoppable train of a bill through the House, but there is still all of a year for the politics to derail its purpose.
In the meantime, as she mulls over the full and evolving implications of Dookeran’s “No”, and ponders the meaning of the protestors—mainly women—outside Parliament who have been braving scorching sun and torrential rain to make their point and stake their claim, the country has its work cut out.
Carpe diem. The time is now to think about the Constitution by which we wish to govern our country and our lives. Wherever we are, in village or town, in church or in school, at home or at work, within political parties or out, it should be our business to think through the issues. It is not enough to just take a side or be blinded by loyalties. We need to gather in groups and read through the PM’s bill, read the various reports of Constitution Reform—from Wooding to Ramadhar, talk to each other and clarify our thoughts in making up our own minds.
For the virgin fingers of 17 to 21 year-olds who will be of age in 2015, this is a moment for self-assertion. For those younger, it’s a chance of political birth and preparation. And for the rest of us, it is a time for making some new vows, as citizens equally free and responsible.
Martin Daly’s column returns on August 31