Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stage Two - Irrelevance of Political Parties

To be continued

© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.

Stage One - Power Sharing in Parliament

Since Parliament is the Seat of Power in democratically elected 'governments', it is only reasonable to expect that all parties represented in Parliament should share this power equitably on a proportional basis. This seems the only logical way to ensure that the people represented by the parties have equal opportunity for full participation in governing their country.

In the case of Dominica, in year 2000, of the 21 elected House of Parliament, there were 11(Dominica Labour Party), 2(Dominica Freedom Party) and 8(United Workers Party) members. Power could have been shared in the following proportion: 10% (DFP), 40% (UWP) and 50% (DLP). Assuming there were 10 ministries, then we should expect 1(DFP) minister, 4(UWP) ministers and 5(DLP) ministers.

There would be a Cabinet comprising all parties with the majority party (DLP) having the Prime Minister and the second party (UWP) having the Deputy Prime Minister.

Now wouldn't this create a Government of national unity where party politics stops at the polls?

This top-down approach can be easily implemented without any disruption of the democratic process. It would be considered the first stage of implementing a non-party state through unity in parliament by the peoples representatives. The immediate result is the removal of an ineffective official opposition.

Since Statehood we have been denied the opportunity to fully utilise our potential by being tied slavishly to a system that encourages retrogression rather than progression. The stagnant state of our economy is no accident.

It is difficult to accept that serious politicians are not aware of the debilitating effect of their party politics on the development of our country. Accordingly, it is not too much for them to understand that unity can be achieved, eventually if not immediately, by recognizing and working from the constitutional fact that true political power lies in Parliament and not in Party.

The eventual consequence will be that the Party becomes irrelevant in the governance of the country since all representatives will be engaged cooperatively in the nation's business.


© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Two Major Shortcomings

The Population Factor

With very large populations the citizens are far removed from the seat of government and cannot participate directly in the process of forming a government. It became necessary, therefore, to adopt a mechanism whereby this gap could be bridged.

The solution was found in the principle of representation. 'Parties' became the vehicle through which popular opinion could be expressed. Parties are essentially groups of people sharing similar political philosophies on how the country should be managed. This mechanism ensured that every citizen's view would be automatically assumed through party membership. Thus the Party System served to bridge the gap between the citizen and the National Government. The party which gained the majority votes in an election formed the Government.

The Party System is therefore the result of population size. Today, large nations divide their populations into administrative hierarchies ranging from the largest to the smallest mamageable. Thus, in Britain there are regions, counties, cities, boroughs, etc. The small population of Dominica, and similar developing island nations, is roughly equivalent to an English borough. Such boroughs are in reality very large cities managed by Councils at the municipal level of Government. Their focus is the immediate community, much like our village and town councils. They leave matters of National Defence and Foreign Relations to the Central Government. Yet, their annual operating budgets are far in excess of those in small nations like Dominica. And, they are managed efficiently and effectively.

Clearly, it is superfluous to impose on Dominica and similar small nation states in the Caribbean, the size of British boroughs, the full superstructure of the British Parliamentary system. The need for 'party' representation has never existed as it is in Britain. Citizens in Dominica are virtual neighbours to one another. Dominica is three hundred(300) square miles in area, twenty-nine miles long, fifteen miles wide with a dwindling population of seventy-five thousand. There can be no justification for any organisation or group to represent citizens' political opinions which they do, in any event, by the ballot. The party system is, therefore, a relic of former colonial masters left behind because this was the system in force at the time.

The Resources Factor

Those who have witnessed the deliberations in the Dominica House of Assemblly are somtimes appalled at the unbecoming manner in which members of both sides are engaged in word games that inhibit rather than promote the resolution of the nation's business. Most times one gets the impression that the Opposition's business is to oppose, literally, whatever the Government proposes, while the Government adopts a 'God-given' right to silence the Opposition. What a waste of human talent, not to mention a waste of tax payers' hard-earned dollars. What a disgraceful way to govern a country! This is the product of the party system - a divided House.

It has been said, if it were possible to elect honest, dedicated men and women, serious about the business of the nation, the House would rise above petty party differences to engage in productive deliberaton. They would place the nation before self and party and vote according to their consciences without fear of reprisals. It is reasonable to assume, all things being equal, that two heads working together will more likely solve a problem or achieve a desired goal quicker and more efficiently than two heads working separately and, most times, in opposition to each other. This is the expectation of the non-party system - a united House.

Outside the House, the party system divides the society into warring factions in all areas of life - the family, job and education opportunities, social relations, etc. Which ever party is in power its members and supporters become the favourite sons and daughters of the land. This state of affairs has been going on for decades causing untold deterioration in the socio-economic conditions of Dominica. A divided society cannot prosper. Only in unity can we, in Dominica, ever hope to become truly independent. But we can do that only by removing the cancer that colonial masters left behind - the party.


© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.

Installing the System in a Nutshell

In the Non-Party System, the main thrust or objective is the removal of 'party' in the politics of our country! I cannot stress this more than I already have. Achieving this goal does NOT diminish the democratic process as outlined below:

  1. prospective independent candidates offering themselves for service through campaigning,
  2. the electorate voting for the candidates of their choice in free elections,
  3. the elected cadidates forming the House of Representatives as Independents,
  4. Choosing a Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Ministers from among the elected Representatives,
  5. the Ministers sit as the Cabinet to fashion national policies and set planning goals,
  6. Representatives meet as a unified body instead of a divided House and vote according to their consciences,
  7. Representatives reporting back to their constituencies to give account of their stewardship,
  8. Constituencies having the Right to Recall Representatives for not responding to the will of the people.

Is there any thing here that is undemocratic or unconstitutional for that matter? The only fundamental difference with what obtains now is the eradication of formal 'party politics'.

Installing the new system, however, cannot be done immediately. The two-party system has been in operation for decades and is entrenched in the lives of the population and the socio-economic fabric of Dominica. It is the only political model of parliamentary democracy with which we are familiar. One can imagine the resistance to change this will arouse.

  • Some will argue that it works for them and will interfere with established procedures
  • It will have serious consequencies for international relations
  • It may promote conditions for dictatorial rule
  • The Constitution will have to be revised in fundamental areas
  • It may produce conditions that encourage the breakdown of law and order

While all these are legitimate concerns, none of these will occur in fact. We tend, in Dominica, to leave well alone. What we call well is really the maintenance of the status quo, with all its faults. A political party provides a safe base from which to legitimise the actions of those in power regardless of the negative consequences for the people.

Installing the non-party system, therefore, must be approached in gradual stages. Change can proceed either from the top-down or from the bottom-up. We suggest the top-down as explained in the next blog post


© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.

Dominica's Political Problem

From the time when Dominica was given self-rule and entered into Associated Statehood with Britain, the political management of the country has been tottering. The British colonial masters, weary that our new found leaders may not have been ready to take over the reins, kept judicial control in London through the Privy Council and administrative control through Governors appointed by Her Majesty!

Associated Statehood soon came to be seen as token independence and it was not long before all former British Island colonies clamoured for the real thing - total independence. Having been weened into the British parliamentary system on which our Constitution is based, Dominica entered full force into party politics which the British practised successfully for centuries. Who could doubt that the 'party system' was the be-all and end-all of all political systems?

History will record, however, that the practice of party politics in Dominica has left much to be desired! The division of the electorate into parties has served to truly divide the country into bitter camps. Such bitterness is not the result of opposing political philosophies, nor is it because of conflicting manifestos, but of an insipid, personal animosity by party members for those of opposing parties. Questions of colour, occupation, family background, level of education, lifestyle and even place of residence take priority over the real issues of the economy.

Canvassing has become a spectacle in character assissination, referred to as mépuis in the local vernacular. This style of debate is carried into the House of Representatives where members invoke 'parliamentary' freedom of speech! One only has to research Hansard during the Patrick John regime to appreciate the sordid depths to which party politics have sunk our nation.

So, what is the nature of our political problem? Simply put, our problem in Dominica, which is similar throughout the Caribbean islands, particularly the small, unsophisticated economies like Dominica, is the party system. It was inherited (or more accurately, imposed on us) from our colonial past. It is a system which works well in large developed countries and which the British assumed would do the same in small developing, former colonial territories. The record proves that assumption totally wrong.

We all agree on the following two (2) major shortcomings - there are others - that limit or define our political system:

  1. Dominica's population of 75,000 is too small to support a sophisticated British parliamentary system
  2. Dominica's resources, both economic and human, are too scarce to be embroiled in divisive partisanship.

Under the circumstances, I have proposed what has been called a "Non-Party" system of government.

  • That means the absence of partisanship in our political management.

  • This does NOT mean a one-party system but the total exclusion of parties altogether!

  • This means Representatives will be voted in, as presently, by the people they represent and no longer through a party.

  • This means Parliament will be governed by the Representatives of the people and no longer by the party in power. There will be no official Opposition.

  • This means Representatives will owe allegiance to the people they represent and no longer to their party.

  • This means the House of Representatives will be a House united by the will of the people and no longer divided along party lines.

  • This means each Representative will be guided by conscience and the interests of the nation and no longer by the dictates of his/her party.

These are only some of the advantages to be derived from a Non-party system. There is no sophistication in such a system.

Imagine, if you can, the present Members of Parliament becoming one body by shedding their 'party' yokes. Would there be room to "cross the floor"? Would there be room for 'party' bribery and corruption? Would there be room for rancour and mépuis? Would there be room for nepotism and self-interest?


© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.

The Dilemma of Small Island Politics

The economies of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), like the Commonwealth of Dominica, inherited a political system from their colonial master, United Kingdom, known as the Westminster model. This model is anchored in a two-party system of popular representation which forms the basis of a House of Parliament involving the ruling government and an official opposition.

This two-party system of governing the islands has been a bone of contention from the word go. It is generally accepted that while it may be workable, even appropriate, for Britain, it has failed to provide the structures necessary for the socio-economic development of these islands, particularly the smaller states.

Since its adoption, it is generally agreed that the Westminster model of government and the two-party system on which it is based are mainly responsible for the following:
  1. Bitter division among relatively small populations characterised by personal animosities
  2. Lack of trained and competent representatives to manage the affairs of state
  3. A preoccupation with power and the ruthless desire to retain it
  4. The use of political position to serve the interest of incumbents and their families
  5. Blatant nepotism and financial and economic gain to party members and supporters.

These and other considerations have prompted debate on the appropriateness and applicability of the Westminster model for the Caribbean islands, particularly the small states. In the following discussions I will use the island economy of the Commonwealth of Dominica as reference.


© Raglan E. Riviere, B.Sc.(Soc), M.H.A.