As the political temperature rises in a sure sign that that the next general election is fast approaching, the contentious subject of vote buying has resurfaced in the national political discourse.
At a public meeting over the weekend, political newcomer and United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate for St James South, Christal Austin, raised concern that people with cash-laden envelopes will be out and about on election day seeking to influence voters.
“I don’t know how big the envelopes are, but I have heard that some could go as high as $2,000 and people have already started getting flat screens and iPhones,” said Austin, who was speaking during a spot meeting in West Terrace on Saturday night.
Connecting both the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the main Opposition Barbados Labour Party (DLP) to the practice, Austin made it clear to her audience that the UPP, which is contesting its first general election, would not be going down that route.
“We have persons in the party, not just ready to talk but ready to bring legislation to end corruption at the political and governmental level.
“One of the things we stand against is the buying and selling of votes in this country,” she made clear.
The UPP must be commended for its principled stand.
Amid the current discussion about a code of conduct for parties and candidates to sign on to before the election to ensure the campaign sticks to the issues instead of degenerating in a mudslinging match, wouldn’t it be a good idea if the parties also could be brought together to give a public commitment against vote buying?
Vote buying amounts to a corruption of the political process. The proper functioning of any democracy is premised on voters having the opportunity, after assessing the issues and solutions offered by each party and candidate, to freely choose who, in their judgment, is best suited to be the constituency representative and, at the national level, to be the Government.
On an ethical level, the issue of vote buying and selling goes deeper. In the first instance, it belittles and makes a mockery of the struggles and sacrifices of our fore parents for the right to vote and to have a say in who is selected to run the affairs of this country.
Prior to the advent of universal adult suffrage in 1951, 13 years after the 1937 riots, only a small percentage of the Barbadian population, predominantly landowners, had voting rights.
There is an important issue which the seller apparently overlooks in his or her zeal for cash or whatever inducement is on offer. When the vote is sold to the highest bidder, it can be argued that the seller has surrendered his or her right to receiving good representation. If the buyer becomes an elected Member of Parliament, he or she is under no obligation to deal with the particular constituent’s issues or concerns over the next five years because the vote was part of an exchange.
Do vote sellers really understand the possible implications of their decision? Blame cannot be placed only at the feet of offending politicians or their agents, though they must accept most of the blame, if only for the simple reason that they should know better. Indeed, it can be said that vote buying is encouraged by a level of thinking within a section of our society today that does not consider corruption a problem, in the way most people do.
As they see it, politicians do not have their interests at heart and are mostly out to feather their own nests. Therefore, if they want the avail themselves of the opportunity to serve in Parliament or, better yet, in Government, they have to pay to get there. On the other hand, a politician’s decision to pay suggests that winning a seat offers access to greater rewards than the mere opportunity to serve. It is a sad commentary on the state of our politics.
Given how angrily Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had spoken about vote buying immediately following the last general election and his vow to stamp it out, by now concerned Barbadians would have thought that more effective curbs would have been put in place.
But, as there is still some time left before the expiry of the incumbent’s term and the dissolution of Parliament, maybe there is still some hope that the promised action will be taken. Let’s see a determination not go into another general election with this blemish on our politics!