Is this the reform we voted for?
Trinbagonian Child, an alderman/alderwoman in our system of local government is a member of a borough or council who is not elected by the popular vote but who shares membership of the borough/council with councillors, persons who are elected by the popular vote. They may be an ordinary member or be elected by the council as mayor of a city. (With respect to the second possibility, for example, Louis Lee Sing is an alderman who was elected in council as mayor of Port of Spain, and Marlene Coudray was an alderwoman elected in council as mayor of San Fernando before becoming a Cabinet minister).
Aldermen/alderwomen are selected by the councillors of the different political parties that make up a council and, apparently, there aren’t enough of them in the different councils of Trinidad and Tobago, from the perspective of the Prime Minister. Mrs Persad-Bissessar announced last Thursday that her Government would be creating legislation, in anticipation of local government elections scheduled for October 21, to increase their number to four in every council and to shift their selection from the councillors to the voters in local government elections.
Cherished Child, this move, according to the Prime Minister, will ‘strengthen our democracy and allow the electorate greater control over those who are put forward to serve as both councillors and aldermen by ensuring that every vote will now count and no vote will ever be wasted again in any local government election in this country because people may feel that their party does not have a chance to win in their district’.Further, it is ‘designed to empower our voters and enhance citizen participation in all elections’ and will ‘ensure that every vote will count in every district because those votes will be used to calculate the allocation of the seats of aldermen.
Even if a single party were to win all of the seats on the first past-the-post system, there will more than likely be an allocation of at least one alderman to another party which will ensure that another political voice would sit on such a Council’.
A mouthful, Thoughtful Child, but you get the Prime Minister’s message, right? Letting the people, rather than the councillors, decide on the aldermen/alderwomen would 1) be more democratic and participatory/enhance citizen participation in voting; 2) make every vote count; and 3) result ‘more than likely’ in two parties winning an allocation of aldermen/alderwomen.
Amazing, Incredulous Child! While claim 3 is reasonable, the others clearly — to me, not the Prime Minister — are not. She is, quite clearly to me, equating democracy and participation to mere voting and she is indulging in vapid hype. The very details of the rest of her text give her away. She tells us that there would be a mixed system for selecting aldermen/alderwomen, involving first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional allocation of votes to parties based on the results of FPTP.
She tells us the parties would present a closed list of aldermen/alderwomen upfront before the vote. And then she turns round and tells us, straight-faced as you please, that that represents enhanced democracy and participation. The party takes away the selection from the councillors, transfers it to itself, and tells the people to vote their slate, but Mrs Persad-Bissessar says that once they vote for the party’s slate they are being more democratic and participatory.
And on top of that, Disbelieving Child, she trumpets, confusing her woulds and wills and proposal with reality, ‘Every vote will count!’ How would every vote count? According to the Prime Minister, ‘because those votes will be used to calculate the allocation of the seats of aldermen’. It’s all about voting — voting for the party’s slate of councillors and aldermen/alderwomen and taking the power to select the latter away from the former. That is enhanced democracy, UNC style.
Alert Child, I am sure this statement early in her text is clearer now: ‘The time has come to have the aldermen elected by the population and not selected by the councillors after an election.
Our examples over the years have shown us that this process can be manipulated and controlled by political deal-making and political indiscipline to the detriment of the population who have no say in what the councillors may want to do after they have been elected’.
This move by the Prime Minister is clearly designed to stymie the power of ‘undisciplined’, maverick councillors, not to give the population more democracy. She substitutes ‘population’ for ‘party’, plain and simple, because the former reference is more palatable.
Most definitely, it is the party that she wants to elevate, not the population. The population must follow the party! Down with councillors who marginalise the population after the vote!
And yet, Diffident Child, this is essentially what her Government has been doing since winning office in 2010. Disconnecting from the population. Taking no steps to facilitate the realisation of the agendas of their multiple communities. Consigning and confining the population to the role of acquiescent followers good only for voting. Treating (a select few in) the party as more important than the majority in the population that put them in office. Running rampant in the place.
Disillusioned Child, the population has ‘no say in what the [party] may want to do after they have been elected’, but the Prime Minister has determined that the reform we need is to have the party replace the councillors in the selection of aldermen/alderwomen.
Shaking my head and gnashing my teeth, Cherished Child.
Walk good, you hear?
• Winford James is a UWI
lecturer and political analyst