We start with a rejoinder to the Blog last week written by Professor Havelock Brewster, a most respected scholar and friend, in which the liberty is taken to share his poignant ideas in their entirety. He challenges “Quintessential Leadership” to launch bold new enterprises and prompts our indulgence of sketches for making democracy a reality.
A quintessential leader needs to launch a bold new Barbadian Enterprise—A Rejoinder by Havelock Brewster
Yes, there are very challenging - perhaps bordering on existential- problems of sustainable economic development facing Barbados, under Mottley’s leadership. From the little I know, Barbados policy seems to be like more of the same. I don't see new, course- changing orientations., learning from new models - Iceland, Croatia, Switzerland, Lithuania, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius …..,
Yet, this is the most propitious time for a quintessential leader to launch a bold, new Barbadian enterprise. There being zero opposition in Parliament, and a virtual absence of dissent or alternatives anywhere in society.
It is surprising now how we ignore the flaws of (Western-type) democracy, even when as in the US they are up in our face, and assert its perfection in ubiquitous application, to the exclusion of all else. We overlook how much such systems demean the ideal of government by the people for the people. Might one not then be a little hesitant of the praiseworthiness of a system that results in zero representation in Parliament of a half or more of the population. This faux democracy is a condition that micro-States seem particularly susceptible to. A small space is the ideal milieu for a charismatic Hero, whether benign or malignant, to mesmerize a captive Crowd. We’ve seen this play many times in several of the Eastern Caribbean States, and in Barbados. And in some of these cases we have witnessed over long periods of time “elected” dictatorships descend into exclusive, cruel, abusive, corrupt regimes. True, there are safeguards on the books- the rule of law, human rights, non- discrimination, equal opportunity, and so on. But surely these desiderata cannot replace representation of the people by the people.
There is a regrettable paucity of research and analysis of these “democratic” aberrations. It should surely be possible to come up with ideas to ameliorate their shortcomings. For one thing, the present system of Western-style democracy in micro-States seems altogether out of date. It does seem feasible/ realistic/ cost effective, especially in these days of efficient and fast transportation and communication technologies, that, as a minimum, participatory (Swiss-style) democracy- as a proxy for government by the people for the people, could actually be implemented in the micro-States of the Caribbean.
For those who speak of the Caribbean as a (new) “Civilization”; for those who voice their disaffection with how the world is run by a handful of large, wealthy, and powerful countries in their own interest, what better way to Lead the World Community than to put their money where their mouth is, by moving beyond the Republic and Westminster, towards the creation of Real Democracies.
PM Mottley’s New Regime
Since this rejoinder was written Prime Minister Mottley has announced the appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister, a smaller Cabinet of 20 members, from 26 in 2018. It includes four Senior Ministers each to coordinate the work of a cluster of ministries. She also announced that she will be seeking an amendment to the Constitution to reduce the age from 21 to 18 years for eligibility for appointment to the Senate. She has also institutionalized a system whereby each parliamentarian is to spend a prescribed period per week (1/2 a day) in his/her constituency and hold regular constituency forums. These policies are not novel nor do they meet the transformational levels for a bold new Barbadian enterprise. But they are at least some steps toward making a difference. And despite the low voter turnout which is increasingly the trend in “COVID elections“, in Barbados no attempt was made to recapture power through denying access to the ballot box in general. Without survey data, it is difficult to ascertain if the low voter turnout at 45% percent was due to COVID restrictions, apathy or alienation.
Making Democracy Real
Consideration must seriously be given to the kernel of the Rejoinder’s argument that there is need for research and analysis on the “political aberrations” of western style democracy especially in micro states like Barbados the pivot here is to consultation and advocacy, open government and public ethics.
First, reforms must be driven by the idea of expanding and strengthening democracy and citizen participation. This means systematically examining the important features of constitutionalism which include openness toward the recognition of collective rights of citizens as distinct from the underestimated tension between constitutional reforms and state reforms driven by international financial institutions.
Second, little scholarly attention has focused on the importance of the role of deputy prime ministers. In the case of Barbados, the appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister may be interpreted as a clear signal of succession planning. According to a comparative study on political leadership this will depend on a display of qualities such as temperament; relationships with the Cabinet and caucus; relationships with the party; popularity with the public; media skills; and leadership ambition. See Political Leadership: A Comparative study
Third, is the case for proportional representation the essence of which is that all votes contribute to the result—not just a plurality, or a bare majority. Its application will surely eliminate the faux democracy that results in zero representation in Parliament of a half or more of the population as in the cases of Barbados and Grenada. Of course there are other variations such as consociational democracy as in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Suriname that forges coalition governments and power sharing.
Fourth, reforms should seek not only to restore representative democracy—which is itself momentous in overcoming military dictatorship especially in the political history of Latin America — but also to create new spaces for citizen participation. Such reforms may be achieved through the recognition and expansion of direct-democracy mechanisms such as popular consultations and referendums and second, through the creation of citizen bodies to control public affairs such as associations of users to oversee the management of public services. In this regard, the new Bolivian and Ecuadorian constitutions stimulate new forms of participation—which seek to overcome the limitations of liberal democracy—and incorporate the recognition of the community democracy developed by indigenous peoples.
USA - a Democratic Aberration
Ironically, Professor Jay Mandle in a very interesting blog "The arc of Justice" in Democracy Matters, January 2022, places in stark relief the "aberration of democracy" in the USA. As was the case after reconstruction, he identifies today's anti-democrats as explicitly attempting to purge the voting rolls by making registering and voting more difficult, by corrupting election administration, and by falsifying the counting and certifying of votes. His synopsis is blunt:
"When people say that the arc of history bends towards justice, what they really mean is that the extent to which justice prevails depends on whether a population can defend itself against oppression. But successful defense requires political power, and political power means having access to the ballot box. That is why the opponents of voting rights have always fought so hard. In the past, they have restricted the right to vote to protect their privileged access to power. Today, their attacks on voting rights seek to recapture the power that they fear they are losing.”
"The arc of justice" - Money in my Mind Democracy Matters, January 2022
As yet there is no evidence of this form of "democratic perversion" in Barbados and most of the Caribbean. But it is fair to say that quintessential leaders like Prime Minister Mottley can launch a bold new enterprise in Barbados and inspire a new politics in the Caribbean and beyond.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.