Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 30th 2015 Contents SUNDAY 30TH AUGUST, 2015 -- UWI TODAY 11
I'm observing general election campaigning in Trinidad
and Tobago for the very rst time. As I do so, I am reminded
that e Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a edgling and
immature democracy. I am also reminded of the fact that
the concept of democracy itself is awed and essentially
contested. So many of the de ciencies we are witnessing
with democracy in this country are also seen in more mature
and established democracies the world over.
Winston Churchill once said that "Democracy is the
worst form of government except all other forms that have
been tried from time to time." And he was probably spot
on. Democracy, or "rule by the people," is a concept that has
assumed a positive normative value. It is very di cult for
anyone these days to criticize "democracy" without being
stigmatized, especially when one considers the many people
around the world who live under dictatorships and who are
clamouring for democracy. But not all states that claim to
be democratic are actually engaged in the positive norms
of the democratic ideal. Furthermore, there is no universal
model of democracy.
Let's begin with what most political scientists consider
as the essence of democracy. Democracy for these scholars
is essentially "government of the people, by the people,
and for the people." at de nition implies that people
ought to be at the heart of any democracy. e population
of any given country must therefore collectively decide on
who should govern them, and those in government should
be answerable to the people who elect them to o ce. On
the surface those assumptions seem fairly straightforward.
But we all know that societies are generally not uniform.
Therefore, the societal interests will mostly likely be
fractured along ethnic, racial, economic, religious and social
lines. No elected government can ful l the wishes of all of
its citizens. Every political decision cannot be submitted to
the masses for their approval. Not every signal citizens in a
democracy can have a say on every issue that a ects him or
her. Not all divergent views can be taken into consideration
or given equal weight when decisions on what constitutes
the populations' interests are taken. us, determining
which societal interest should receive priority is le in the
hands of an elite few.
Very few democratic societies can engage in what is
called "direct democracy." e closest model of this form
of democracy is practised in Switzerland. But even in
in a Flawed
W. ANDY KNIGHT
W. Andy Knight is Director of the Institute of International Relations and the Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean at e University of the West Indies.
He is also Professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Switzerland, the "demos" model of governance is undergoing
"opinion-expression fatigue". ere are so many referenda on
so many di erent issues that voter turnout and participation
has experienced signi cant decline. It is just too impractical
to consult with the population on every decision that must
be taken regarding what ought to be the interests of that
population. Direct democracy is therefore quite impractical,
especially in countries with large populations. In any event,
not everyone will agree with decision reached via the
What I am seeing in the 2015
Trinidad and Tobago election
campaign is very troubling indeed.
e vitriolic and acerbic rhetoric
spewing out of the mouths of some
of our politicians is extremely
worrisome. e amount of money
being spent on advertising by some
parties is obscene.
direct democracy vehicle, even if that consensus model of
democracy is considered ideal. At the end of the day, the
majority rules in democratic societies.
So what we are left with, for better or worse, is
representative democracy. e cornerstone of that form of
democracy is "elections". Elections are generally considered
the benchmark of truly democratic countries. But in some
cases, elections are rigged or otherwise awed. I'm sure
that most people would remember the 2000 American
Presidential elections when Al Gore was denied victory
because of hanging chads and the vagaries of US Electoral
College. Gore lost to George W. Bush, even though the
former Vice President had secured a majority of the popular
vote. us, even in the US -- the so-called "beacon of modern
day democracy" the votes of the majority can have little or
no impact on the outcome of an election.
Elections, and election campaigns, can be very divisive.
What I am seeing in the 2015 Trinidad and Tobago election
campaign is very troubling indeed. The vitriolic and
acerbic rhetoric spewing out of the mouths of some of our
politicians is extremely worrisome. e amount of money
being spent on advertising by some parties is obscene. One
gets the impression that the goal of certain parties is to win
at all cost, rather than nd ways of truly representing and
serving the people. In Kenya, back in 2008, the divisiveness
of the election campaign led to violence in which over one
thousand people were killed. My fear is that in a very close
election, such as the one we are likely to witness here in
Trinidad and Tobago, unless cool heads prevail, violence
is just seething underneath the surface and could erupt
particularly if one party feels that it has been aggrieved or
cheated out of victory.
One of the biggest problems with democracy is the
"tyranny of the majority". Whatever the outcome in this
election, there must be a renewed level of respect for the
loser. e party that forms the government should recognize
that they have been given a mandate by the people to govern,
and not to obliterate the opposition. e main opposition
party needs to be respected as a possible "government in
waiting". Minorities have to be guaranteed that their rights
will be protected and not be trampled upon by the majority.
If we can adhere to some of those basic principles of
civility, then there is hope for this very awed and edgling
democratic state -- the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
W. Andy Knight
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