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VOTE—IT IS A PRECIOUS PRIVILEGE

Published: 
Sunday, September 6, 2015

Voting is more than the freedom to have a say about who we will employ to manage the nation’s affairs. It is also a decision to reaffirm our belief in a democratic way of life, but just mention the word ‘vote' to some people and they steups. They don’t think their votes matter. They feel all political parties after sweetening them up with promises turn out to be a bunch of crooks only interested in self-enrichment. Who could argue with that? Governments often make a mockery of democracy, creating an illusion of it rather than valuing our votes.

Others feel the electoral system, which is the first-past-the-post, disenfranchises them. As with any electoral structure, the party winning the majority seats forms the government. It is our law.

Mr Timothy Hamel Smith initiator of the none-of-the-above (NOTA)/no-vote scheme is a former member of the Congress of the People (COP). That party had a power balance of six seats during the last parliamentary term, enough for courageous representation of the people. It squandered the opportunity. Evidently, our primary problem is not the system, but the inability of individuals we elected to have the courage to invest our votes judiciously. Consider the COP voted for the contemptuous run-off law, which it helped designed to disenfranchise itself and other minority parties. Wasn’t that the time to launch a no-vote campaign?

Advocates of the misguided no-vote scheme should respect the fact that the People’s National Movement (PNM) and United National Congress (UNC) exist at the will of the majority of citizens. If Mr Hamel Smith and his followers don’t want to vote for either of them, that’s their prerogative. Democracy doesn’t start and end at the ballot box. It is a dynamic continuum with electors having the ultimate power to hold government accountable for its performance. Over the years, we had done quite well and changed it as frequently as we switched the TV channel when an annoying political commercial started. While we may protest and criticise the Government over mismanagement of our affairs, voting is the only decisive weapon to put a spoke in its wheel of corruption that sucks out the soul of democracy. Spoiling the ballot paper achieves nothing other than to preserve the status quo regardless of how corrupt the players are. Every time we vote, we take a leap of faith. We have no guarantee that the new government will not be corrupt and incompetent, but after we evaluated its performance if we realised that it had falsified its resume to be hired, then we have the licence to fire it.

Thousands of people shed their blood for the privilege to cast a ballot. Hundreds of thousands are fleeing for their lives in the hope of participating in societies where citizens have that right. We are asked to disenfranchise ourselves. 

The 69 per cent of us who voted in the 2010 general election played the hand dealt and gave the UNC/People’s Partnership (PP) and its endearing leader, the Hon Kamla Persad Bissessar, a chance. Back then, expectations were high that the country would have moved forward socially, economically and politically. No one expected miracles in five years. Voters knew the weaknesses of the UNC, but felt the COP would have been a check on corruption. That didn’t happen, and now they feel betrayed.

An election is usually a verdict on the incumbent’s performance. The criteria to measure that is based on the covenant established with us five years ago to address the significant issues that were affecting society. Back in 2010, those issues were allegations of corruption, blood crimes, and the quality of governance. Five years later, murders are averaging two daily. Allegations of corruption are at an all-time high. The judicial system and anti-corruption agencies such as the Integrity Commission—institutions at the core of social justice and quality of life—were hammered and compromised. That speaks to governance. If good governance were about constructing highways, buildings and other infrastructure, we would not be where we are today, with all public institutions collapsing around us. The UNC/PP leader said she has a plan and asked electors to give her a second chance.

Back in 2009, Dr Keith Rowley criticised and challenged his political leader over Udecott’s corruption. He urged his colleagues to save the party from the tainted institution. He risked his political career. His party, the Opposition and the public vilified and ridiculed him. In 2010, voters battered the PNM government for corruption and unacceptable governance. The intrepid Dr Rowley didn’t slink away. Against the odds, he went on to disrupt the megalith’s rigid, autocratic culture by changing its constitution for greater inclusiveness. With a forward-thinking team, he lifted it from devastation, invigorated it, and mobilised his youthful and energetic forces. The party re-invented itself with a blend of new professionals and experienced talent. He demonstrated strong and motivational leadership. He has promised to deal decisively with corruption and strengthen our institutions. He has asked electors to take a leap of faith. VOTE.

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