Shifting Political Culture

So I am writing this just after reading of the MSJ’s “predictable but timely departure” from a coalition government that describes itself as a “more transparent and accountable Government than any other before” it.  I confess to being one who is slow when it comes to bashing leaders.  Rather, I continue to advocate bottom-up development and the need for a consciousness shift by ordinary people as a precondition to any change in leadership quality.  I see serious value in understanding the socio-economic challenges taking place in other democracies and how they are similar to those in the Caribbean.

Politics is often treated with almost religious fervor, and we are unable to discuss the issues and get caught up in personalities dispassionately.  Some bizarrely expect that allegiance to a political party is unconditional and as fervent as one’s allegiance to a religion of choice.  Looking at the mood of democracies across the world, there is a discontent seeing fewer ‘safe’ and more ‘marginal’ seats.  From where I sit, this is a most welcome development.  The electorate must become even more demanding, and where a political party advocates a return to business as usual – they should be voted out as soon as possible.
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But as the people's consciousness shifts, there is a recognition that the very political system itself is as imperfect as the people who function within it.  Politicians realize that to keep their positions of power, they must only tell the people what they think they want to hear.  That is the norm, which is what makes the MSJ position such a welcome one.  Regardless of whether I agree with all their ideological positions (because I do not), I applaud their willingness to walk away from the trappings of power and stand firm for what they believe.
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However, it is easy to forget just how dependent we have all become on the ‘nanny state’ with its maze of hand-outs, which ensures that part of us wants to defend her despite the obvious long-term damage.  This need of the state to create and nurture dysfunctional dependency is at the heart of the problem.  A day can hardly pass by without the media reporting on some company that appears to benefit financially from a relationship with political decision-makers.  Similarly, social programs created to empower disadvantaged groups are all too often skewed to reward party loyalty and ensure continued dependency.

I once thought that these issues were manifestations of power.  The idea being that power corrupts, and of course, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  These days, I question this notion, and I now wonder whether something about power attracts the corruptible.  Ironically, the ideal leader would then be a reluctant leader, rather than the would-be leader who craves the trappings of power.  Again I would emphasize that it would be a mistake to get caught up thinking that these problems are peculiar to any country.  They are an inextricable part of contemporary politics.  Fortunately, however, the winds of change continue to blow.

One of the most worthwhile developments in Trinidad is the town hall type meetings to discuss constitutional reform.  This is a continuation of a similar effort by the previous administration.  This series of meetings serve two purposes.  Firstly it provides an opportunity for us interested citizens to increase our understanding of the political system.  Secondly, it provides an avenue for the average person to get involved in shaping our future.

On Facebook, there is a resolution by the Congress of the People on Constitutional Reform.  In part, it reads, “…Be it resolved that the People’s Partnership Manifesto promises of the introduction of term limits, fixed election dates, the right to recall and national referenda be brought to the Parliament as amendments to the Constitution before the end of this session of Parliament, and that strong emphasis is placed on the introduction of Proportional Representation as part of the amendments.”  The resolution also calls for a review of the, particularly sensitive Tobago question.

As in my previous column, I again refer to the Reservations of Solomon Lutchman in the Report of the Wooding Commission on Constitutional Reform – “A new constitution, or any new set of clothes, cannot solve the ills of any society unless there is a fundamental change of attitudes in the people for whom it is designed and the persons who must operate it.”  Our attitudes and our system need to be reviewed side by side.  Judging by what is happening across the world, the time is now.

My name is Derren Joseph, and I love my country.  Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com.   

Note: The blog that used to be here is now at https://www.mooresrowland.tax/.

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