The bell was rung, the date set and the campaigning got going. Barbados goes into an election that many are calling the mother of all elections in the history of Barbados.
There is much at stake, without a doubt, and Barbadians are being asked to make some very important decisions in the upcoming general elections.
Unprecedented in the history of elections in Barbados is the number of parties and individuals contesting seats. ‘Historic’ is certainly an applicable description of these 2018 elections.
As in previous elections, you will find die-hard supporters of one political party or the other, persons who sit on the fence and persons who are mere spectators. It is argued that there has been an increase in the number of those who are either sitting on the fence or choosing to be spectators in these 2018 elections.
I wrote before to the growing trend among younger voters not to have an interest in the system or care too much about voting. Attracting this demographic to the polls is one struggle that the political parties are facing. Putting the campaign on social media is one answer. It certainly is the place where young potential voters are found. Moving these potential voters from being disinterested in the political system to being active participants will require much thought and action, but can be done with the right approach and strategic planning. If the culture of buying votes becomes more entrenched in these elections, then a dangerous and slippery slope would be the outcome and where all will end up is nightmarish.
The usual call at this time is for political parties to keep it clean and avoid the insulting and degrading remarks slung around during election campaign speeches. That call generally goes unheeded by some who insist it is an election and not a boy’s scout meeting. But should it happen? I have attended election campaign meetings that have been void of any mudslinging, insulting and outrageous behaviour by the speakers and the crowds have been engaged and motivated. There is absolutely no need to go into the gutter to get support. If, as a party, that is what you are prepared to do, then clearly it doesn’t say much about what you have to offer.
I may be naïve, but I believe that any person who chooses to throw their hat in the ring to contest a seat must do so out of a real, conscious and sincere determination to serve the people that elect them and the nation that they represent.
If an election is merely seen as a battle or fight to see who crosses that finish line first, then such individuals wouldn’t care about what they say or do to win. But getting involved is not about doing and behaving in a way that only focusses on winning. Getting involved means that one truly cares about serving the people who will be your constituents. Boxers will go into a boxing match hyping up all their powers and abilities and downgrading their opponents. Each boxer in the ring will slug it out until a winner is assured. The winner walks away with the winnings and the title. They keep that until they box again and either win or lose. Getting involved in elected politics should never be like being in a ring where you have to knock your opponent out by any means necessary. Candidates must see themselves as servants of the nation and servants of their people they want to represent. There must be respect for all and they must compete in a clean manner. Talk to the issues. Give the voters hope in what your party offers. Win based on policies and plans.
We know that some modern-day politicians see winning achievable by spreading fake news, innuendos and slanderous commentary on their opponents. We know that it works for some. We have witnessed it in major democracies in the world. But is that really something we want to emulate? That behaviour destroys innocent people and corrupts a system.
As Michelle Obama famously said: “if they go low, we go high”. Idealistic thinking perhaps, but good people will not degrade themselves to become like these politicians. They will retain the moral high ground and hopefully, that will be the criteria the voters will use to decide where their ‘x’ goes.
Undecided voters will undoubtedly hold the key to which party wins these upcoming elections in Barbados. Not voting must not be seen as an option. Each person should make a conscious effort to get out there and exercise that constitutional right. Between now and May 24, understand the issues, read the manifestos and engage your candidates. Talk to them, tell them your fears and hopes. This is the best time to be heard by politicians, they must listen or at least pretend to be listening. The better ones are those who will actually listen and respond as best as they could.
Reject the insulting and degrading commentary by those who choose to hurl such. Focus on the issues and understand them clearly. Don’t be swayed by promises of personal gain to be granted favours. And don’t let any politician insult your intelligence.
We, the citizens, must accept and take charge of the power in our hands to hold each and every politician accountable. Every candidate must answer to us, the voter. They must be made to feel that power. Elections give us that power, embrace it and use it wisely for the betterment not only of ourselves but our communities and our nation.
Understanding what is happening around us gives us the ability to discern right from wrong, truth from falsehood. To understand, we have to be informed. And to be informed, we have to read, listen and seek out the information wherever we can find it. Simply listening to one side is not enough, get the full picture and judge accordingly. Beware of the false information, the misinformation or the “alternative facts”.
I urge all those eligible to vote in the upcoming elections to go out on May 24th and exercise your constitutional right and responsibility. And after doing so, don’t let it stop there. Hold your parliamentary representative, whoever wins, accountable for his or her stewardship. Citizens in democracies have to demand their rights and hold their representatives accountable. In essence, we are their employers, we pay them through our tax dollars to take care of us and our country. If they don’t perform the tasks necessary, then we reprimand them and ultimately dismiss them.
I sincerely wish for the best outcome in the general elections and I hope that Barbados can move ahead and become an even better place for all its citizens.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)