Author Henry Tudor described a political myth as an ideological narrative that is believed to be true even when it may be false. These myths, he suggested, were devices with dramatic constructions used in order to come to grips with reality. There is a political fallacy that will be exposed once again within the months ahead as to the existence of clean general elections.
There have been calls in Barbados by the church for a clean general election that though on the surface seems to be religious naïveté, is understandable since finding the good in man, nurturing it and bringing it to the fore are part of the church’s remit. There have been promises by politicians to have clean elections, and in previous instances, our political parties have signed agreements to promote this ideal. Then, others in civil society have fallen into line, beseeching the political protagonists to keep the process clean. We suggest that deep within our psyche we perpetuate this myth as a mechanism to come to terms with the reality that a clean election is nothing more than an idealistic pipedream that we are duty-bound to desire.
Since Independence – and we use 1966 as a readily available starting point – there has not been a clean general election in Barbados. Not one! There might have been fair general elections in terms of the absence of electoral fraud but there has been no ‘clean’ general election in 52 years and there will scarcely be one in a few months’ time. And it would be a never-ending challenge for anyone to provide evidence of a general election free of smear, personal attacks, untruths, insults, character assassination, false innuendo, sabotage, and the like, anywhere on the globe. Blood and death among gladiators are expected and accepted in any Colosseum by those who watch and those who participate, irrespective of how repugnant it might get.
A date for the 2018 general election has not yet been announced but already home ownership and the right to own a home have been made a subject of political intrigue. The right of a politician to own a business has been a subject of political debate. The right of citizens to freely associate irrespective of whether one is a politician and the other a developer has been politicized. In short time we can expect the political debate to not only examine the economy and other social issues, but also the sexual orientation of politicians, their academic qualifications, their bank accounts in and outside of Barbados, contracts given for favours, and a range of accusations meant to hurt, humiliate and paradoxically, entertain. The quest for power, with the anticipated spoils for the victors, is an inevitable blood sport.
The truth of the matter is that judging from our political history and the personalities on and off the platforms, the populace would seemingly have it no other way. But, the decent Christian thing to do is to call for clean general elections. This is almost akin to Sunday church services where unwed mothers and fathers take their children to church to listen to sermons about fornication while eating the ‘flesh’ of the Lamb and drinking His ‘blood’ at the altar. These are what some might call necessary “dramatic constructions”.
There have been those who have called for a code of ethics, a written document of do’s and don’ts for the general election. That they have had none not only speaks to the inevitable sterility of such a piece of paper but also the acknowledgement of its unenforceability. After all, one group of offenders is guaranteed to take up the seat of power in Parliament and unlikely to reproach itself. This is similar to the hollow accusations political parties make against each other about buying votes during a general election. They all do it and then point accusatorial fingers at each other. And in a parliament heavily-laden with lawyers, perpetrators are quite cognizant of the difficulty in proving that money exchanging hands among politicians, their agents, and voters, was for the expressed purpose of securing votes.
But do we stop this five-year fit of fanciful folly and futility? No, we cannot and must not. We must always ask for clean general elections. We must do the decent thing. We must play to the righteous gallery. We must imagine that what has occurred in the 14 general elections and 14 by-elections held in Barbados since December 13, 1951, when the first general election under universal suffrage was held here, will not now occur in 2018. And when that oxymoron that is a clean general election does not eventuate, we must prepare and steel ourselves to seek it out again and to perpetuate the myth another five years hence.