ST. VINCENT:- Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne has identified five areas of concern on the heels of the Dec. 13 general elections and said Parliament “ought to act swiftly and reasonably in addressing these matters”.
Delivering the Throne Speech at the ceremonial opening of the Ninth Parliament on Wednesday, Dec. 29, Sir Frederick listed the “five aspects of the general elections which I personally found to be troubling”, namely:
- The excess of personal abuse and vilification from the platforms;
- The disregard of the law and people’s sensitivities in the abuse of the right to broadcast over public address systems mounted on moving vehicles;
- The defacing of private and public property with posters and painted markings;
- The instances, albeit few, of politically-motivated violence; and,
- The huge sums of money spent in the elections by the political parties and their supporters.
He said the defacing of private and state property with campaign paraphernalia “is unacceptable in modern St. Vincent and the Grenadines” and violence “has no place in our democratic politics”.
Sir Frederick, the nation’s ceremonial head of state, said that “the fresh and unambiguous mandate” given by the electorate to the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) led by Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the increased support for Arnhim Eustace and his New Democratic Party (NDP) “point to the necessity and desirability of both sides working constructively together in the nation’s interest”.
The ULP was returned to office for a third straight term having won eight of the 15 seats. It lost to the NDP four of the seats it held in the last Parliament.
“Healing, reconciliation, and nation-building should be among our major goals,” Sir Frederick said.
He said the government “is most sensitive to the issues of healing and reconciliation consequent upon the recent bruising and divisive general elections.
“Truth and honesty are essential pre-conditions for healing and reconciliation. Defamation, unseemly personal attacks, character assassination, and the trafficking in falsehoods will undermine any serious effort at healing and reconciliation. Thus, they ought to be avoided,” he added.
He said legislators must “cast aside the personal vanities, narrow personal agendas and petty political bickering. We must focus more on the wide range of matters upon which there is, or can be, consensus,” he said, even as he acknowledged that “competitive political democracy allows for a certain robustness of language”.
Sir Frederick, however, believed that “most reasonable citizens are likely to concur with the view that personal vilification has gone way beyond any accepted limits.
“Indeed, some political speeches and some rants on talk-radio have been nothing but malicious, verbal abuse and defamation of character. We must stop it,” he said.
He said Vincentians ought to live more lovingly, with each citizen making “a better effort henceforth so to do.
“Parliamentarians have a vital role to play in this regard. To be sure, the church, the school, the family, the mass media, and the community organisation also have their critical contribution to make. But I am talking to Parliamentarians today; so, I focus on Honourable Members,” he said.
Sir Frederick spoke of the Ministry of National Reconciliation, headed by Maxwell Charles, whom he described as “someone who has exquisite credentials as a worker in the pastoral vineyard”.
Sir Frederick also noted that Charles also has ministerial responsibilities for ecclesiastical affairs and expressed confidence that the government minister “would engage with the churches and the Ministry of Social Development, among others, to assist in the realisation of healing and reconciliation”.
The Governor General also spoke to “owning the government”, saying that it “cannot mean fleecing the government, directly or indirectly”.
“I pray that our people, as a whole, at home and abroad would put partisan political differences behind them and embrace the new period with enthusiasm, resilience, and resourcefulness. We are, by and large, a good-natured people who love our neighbours and our country. A tiny minority may go astray but the bulk of us mean well and want to do well for ourselves, our families, and our country. Let us harness this positive impulse for a better future,” he said.