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One dose of democracy

By Raffique shah

One thing we citizens can celebrate on the 52nd anniversary of the nation’s independence is just how dependent we are on our illustrious politicians to tell us what is wrong and what is right, what is good for us and what is not.
Mere mortals that we are, and ignorant ones at that, we were blissfully unaware that for five decades-plus, we had engaged in general elections 13 times (counting 1961), but mostly, the results have yielded governments that did not reflect the will of the electorate. This seething but invisible problem has been the root cause of all our woes — rising crime, nagging poverty, dysfunctional health and education systems, and so on.
Fortunately for us, our wise parliamentarians and senators, the majority of them anyway, diagnosed this serious deficiency in the body politic of the nation, this root of all evil, and inspired by forces unseen, they came up with cure: give them a huge dose of democracy!
And so it came to pass that on the eve of independence celebrations, these saviours of our souls, sitting night into day and day into night, tapped their intellects to the fullest and their maths to the extreme to bring forth some formulae which, while they might befuddle ordinary minds like yours and mine, are guaranteed to give the citizenry the most democratic elections mankind has known.
Since this exercise in enlightenment climaxed at the end of the annual July-August vacation, as I listened to the rationale of those who argued that the “run-off” provision of the Bill was so good for the people, only that the people did not know it, my mind wandered back 50 to 60 years, to my boyhood days during the same vacation period.
Back then, because we were mostly poor people who stayed at home for the entire eight weeks, and whose escapades were confined to playing a variety of physical sports and games with our siblings and friends, and whose adventures extended to foraging for fruits that were in abundance in fields straddling the villages and communities in which we lived, we hardly knew what a beach was, far less a beach house.
The few fortunate who managed to spend some time with cousins or friends afar (meaning Port of Spain or Mayaro) were the objects of envy. An even rarer breed—I knew none—was those travelled abroad by boat, or magically, by plane.
The absence of electricity and television and gadgetry and sundry other modern devices that anchor today’s vacationing children to the dim indoors, so much so that they never experience the sun casting its vitamin-D-laden rays on their backs or getting soaked by downpours while collecting juicy ripe mangoes, only added to our robust upbringing.
But rich or poor, high or low, one experience all children endured during those vacations was the forced administration of a foul-tasting concoction of senna and Epsom salts, the dreaded annual purge. In retrospect, since our bowel movements were normal and mostly we were very healthy, we probably never needed this violent purge that, besides its foul taste, the gripe, the hurried trips to the outhouse, must have wreaked havoc with our innards.
But when Ma, belt in hand, confronted you with the order, “One dose of salts...it good for you!” you had no choice but to gulp the foul concoction and subtract the day from your vacation.
I guess if “one dose of salts” didn’t kill us then, “one dose of democracy” will not hurt us now. The Mother of the Nation has whipped out her belt and administered a mathematical concoction that confuses me to no end. But she says that for too long we have suffered in our ignorance, that we need to be rescued from our own stupidity.
Maybe the lady has a point, only I am not bright enough to understand it, much the way I did not understand Ma and her “dose of salts”. But all Queen’s horses and jackasses, and a few be-suited senators, seem to think the provisions of the Bill, more so the “run-off” rule, will deliver us from the evils that past elections inflicted on us.
Indeed, so critical are the constitutional amendments to our well-being as a society, our lawmakers have prioritised them over crime that is suffocating us, with detection rates that probably need a convoluted mathematical formula of their own to make them look good.
How do you convert a five per cent detection rate to fifty-five? I’m sure the genius who formulated the “run-off” can conjure something.
The Bill was infinitely more important than the tens of thousands of criminal cases that have clogged up the judicial system for decades. “Run-off” takes precedence over eliminating preliminary inquiries, dismissing petty matters and taking courts closer to prisons speed up justice.
Ignore a health system that has condemned thousands of patients to years of waiting for simple procedures. Silence the thousands more who cannot get life-saving medications because somebody messed up. Bet your food card that many schools will not reopen next Tuesday for lack of repairs.
Forget the mess at the BIR offices, Licensing, the ports, public transport, flooding and on and on.
Give them one dose of democracy.
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