Saturday, February 17, 2007

Democracy in T&T

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

Recognise that poem? It was first published in 1976, more than 30 years ago. It remains as pertinent now, as it was then. The translation is at the end. By then, you'd probably have hazarded a good guess on what it is.

In a functioning democracy, it is usually the will of the majority that prevails. For whatever reason, be it constitutional insufficiency, citizen apathy or political arrogance, Trinidad and Tobago seems to be emerging as a democracy of only titular significance. There have been numerous examples of citizens’ calls for changes in policy at the national level, all of which seem to have been falling on deaf ears.

George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’

Our elected representatives and governments are proxies to function on our behalf. Practically, I do not believe that there could be consultation on every minor issue or that it is indeed plausible that citizens can have a direct say on every issue. (even though Cantons in Switzerland show that it can happen) However, when our representatives act contrary to the will of the people and especially when they do so in the caviler and arrogant manner of late, they must be held accountable. That accountability could come in the form of calling for the sacking or resignation of such representatives, but in our Westminster system, it really only comes once every five years when we have the opportunity to vote.

What sense then, does it make for people to continually vote for the same representatives when it is evident that that vote counts for little more than reinstalling someone who views his voters as a mechanism to retain 5 more years of an MPs salary and if he is lucky, a ministerial salary?

It screams of a political immaturity on the part of the majority of Trinbagonians when they cannot summon the courage of their convictions to make decisions that benefit themselves. With apathy abounding, a negligence to participate in the institutions that support our freedoms only serves to benefit those masters of spin who come begging cap in hand every five years to return them to power, only to neglect the very people who put them there.

It is only when the people demonstrate the will to actively engage in a movement for change that the politicians will sit up and take notice and realize that they no longer have a free ride to a seat in Parliament. It is only when people begin to take mature and objective perspectives on the issues that democracy can truly flourish.

Gandhi once said: ‘The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.’ People must take the initiative and realize that they have the right to speak out regardless of who tells them to ‘Shut Up!’ They must let their views be heard so that it cannot be said that they were silent when things were going awry. Regardless of who tries to suppress them, remember that ideas are indeed bulletproof and that if they manage to suppress one or two or ten or one hundred that there must be thousands more willing to protect the very foundation on which this country purportedly came into being, that of democracy.

While our politicians meander along a path towards the next General Election without care for dealing with issues currently at the forefront of the public’s interest, let us take the initiative to deal with the issues. Let us set the agenda and say that WE want to talk about the rising cost of living or the unacceptable murder figures or aluminum smelters. Do not let the politicians set the agenda for us.

That is the potential of a democracy. We must begin to effectively use whatever little power that we have and show the politicians that the most important office in a democracy is indeed that of the citizen. Interesting indeed will be that day when the Trinidadian politician must display humility, gratitude, accountability and those other aspects that citizens not only demand, but deserve.

Should we fail, there is no question that we will surely rue the day that we did not speak and act when we had the opportunity.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
- Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)

No comments:

Post a Comment