“When the act of democracy becomes corrupted, an entire nation can be affected.” Greek Philosopher Plato.
By 2018, Barbadians will go to the polls to elect the Government of their choice that will hopefully uphold the tenets of democracy, which Plato warned were essential to the well-being of the state.
Months away from the constitutional deadline of mid-next year, the silly season is upon us and, from all indication, this general election will not be for the faint hearted.
Already, the political temperature is heating up and will naturally escalate in the months ahead, as political foes stop at little to secure their place in the third oldest legislature in the Americas.
May those honourable seats be reserved for the serious, bold, innovative politicians who understand that they are merely the servants of all Barbadians, working for this island’s development.
A general election is no frivolous affair. Certainly it is at the bedrock of our democracy and therefore every eligible citizen who has the privilege of casting a ballot has a duty to ensure that the upcoming election maintains our regional and international reputation as a mature democracy.
Last week, outgoing Roman Catholic Bishop Jason Gordon, who is returning to his native Trinidad and Tobago to be installed as the Bishop of Port of Spain, urged Barbadians to take their democracy seriously and to take a stand in support of a clean and peaceful election void of corruption and mudslinging.
The reasonable admonition came against the backdrop of vote-buying allegations which marred the 2013 poll and at the height of early warnings that the upcoming poll could be the mother of all political battles, with morality featuring prominently.
To counter what he called a “dangerous path”, Bishop Gordon proposed that the island immediately implements an election code of conduct.
“Our neighbouring countries, Trinidad and St Vincent, just two examples, have a code of ethics for elections where the parties actually sign up voluntarily to say that ‘we will adhere by these’. So things like how we would treat with others on the campaign platform and campaign financing, things like that. I think Barbados would do well to have a code of ethics for this election.”
It’s a recommendation of merit that should be taken on board by relevant parties – not just political – that are serious about this country’s future, and fed up with an emerging brand of empty, senseless, polarizing politics.
A code of conduct is nothing new for Barbados. It simply seeks to hold political candidates, and other key players as well as citizens, to electioneering with decorum, minus inflammatory language and actions that serve no purpose other than to create tension and disrupt friendly rivalry on the campaign trail.
Barbados has reached a stage in its democracy where name-calling, gossip and rumour-mongering must not be tolerated, regardless of political colours.
We have come to a time when the electorate must demand better of candidates on all sides.
This is especially critical given the grave issues confronting this country.
Barbadians cannot afford to allow any politician or party, veteran or virgin, to resort to trivial gibberish while sidestepping pressing issues, including the direction of our troubled economy, job creation, crime and security, the provision of social services and more. We have to demand realistic, sensible answers or we will pay dearly for the next five years after the poll.
A code is also critical to efforts to prevent misuse of official machinery by parties in power and to check electoral offences, malpractices and corruption during elections.
Therefore, a reasonable code of conduct should first require parties, candidates, election officials and citizens to adhere to existing electoral laws.
It should insist on clean campaigns, restrict excessive spending, and promote full cooperation with police and electoral officials to ensure the safety and security of the poll.
We, however, hasten to add that a code, on its own, is meaningless unless it can be enforced. Players and political parties should not sign on to the code in grand style and then carelessly disregard the tenets. There should be some form of enforcement.
At the very least, the watchdog of the code must have the capacity to call attention to breaches and demand appropriate action.
Now is the time for the church, the private sector and civil society groups to team up to craft an election code and send a strong message to political parties that Barbadians will be on watch this time around. Our democracy demands nothing less.