In many countries, including the English speaking Caribbean, party politics has not seemed to serve the people well.
During many elections, the turnout is usually below what is desired. The electorate does not feel that the parties have delivered. Party politics is seen as the province of the elite who monopolise top positions, receive handsome salaries, travel the universe, while things remain as they were since the previous election. And after new elections are held, the parties seem to fall asleep until the next round.
One Caribbean political scientist described party politics as being about scarce benefits and spoils. And what is even more interesting is that party politics seems to resemble a family affair. Many who are in office have often succeeded a family member, and these get the ministerial posts after each election. In a recent election in one Caribbean country two sons of a sitting politician won seats.
There is the further observation that during periods of governance, there are internal rivalries, and disputes over leadership. Then scandals sometimes pop up, and party politics resembles a dance with a constant change of partners.
The people are left out of the equation with empty hands and pockets, since party politics failed to deliver the goods in a tangible way, over sustained periods.
In the Turks and Caicos, party politics had a shaky beginning. Unlike other Caribbean territories where it came into existence as a result of social upheavels, party politics emerged here, according to Dan Malcolm in the book by Dr. Carlton Mills titled “A History of the Turks and Caicos Islands,” when four local persons, the founders, formed the first organized political party, the Labour Party.
Malcolm notes that it was only partly successful, since the idea of party politics was slow to catch on, and the party had no clear ideology, its appeal being merely based on personality, and its period in office was undistinguished, but it could have played a role in the call for constitutional change.
Malcolm, himself is known for a distinguished career in politics and government, and represented the Turks and Caicos Islands at several international conferences dealing with important issues related to its development. He was also a member of the Legislative Council in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The question to be posed now, is: Has the politics of the Labour Party served the Turks and Caicos well? My analysis of Malcolm’s observations shows that the Labour Party entered the political scene where politics was still in virgin territory, with persons that were largely not known, generally throughout the islands.
These are two strikes out. Further, the State Council, the official governing body was highly conservative and inward looking, which meant that fundamental change was not on its plate. Also there were some influential people who thought the Islands were not ready for party politics. But they proved wrong later.
Political appeal based on whether you are liked or not is no recipe for rending effective service and developing a country. And because the Labour Party was in the minority in the then State Council, the policy-making organ of government, meant that the Party’s influence was minimal.
So the Labour Party, with some involvement in influencing the ’76 constitution, raising the level of political consciousness, and demonstrating that party politics was possible, could still be said to be the soil from which politics then, and in its present form grew, and flourished. This should not be overlooked. To this extent it can be said that it has both delivered and served the Turks and Caicos well.
Party politics in the Turks and Caicos took a different turn with the advent of JAGS McCartney. The social scene had also changed because of a feeling among a segment of young islanders, that their future was in doubt. Silent others constituting a respectable percentage of more mature persons felt the need for socio-economic and political changes to address long standing issues.
From this disgruntled segment emerged the formation of the People’s Democratic Movement, which won the most seats in the election that followed, being bolstered by two independent members. A group of conservative Islanders had formed the Progressive National Party in response to the political challenge posed by the PDM.
The PDM with JAGS as Chief Minister sought to undertake a number of social reforms. Education became a priority where more scholarships were awarded.
Hopes were lifted, and people now felt respected. Certain injustices were remedied, there were attempts to make tourism an important plank of the economy, foreign investment was encouraged, and the PDM sought relations with Jamaica and the Bahamas in particular. Independence was also placed on the agenda.
It could be said, therefore, that party politics under the PDM led by JAGS served the Turks and Caicos fairly well. And the Opposition PNP party played its role well.
From this period where a Chief Minister, and ministers of government were central planks in the new constitution, it meant they had more authority, but limited real power.
But since JAGS McCartney, party politics has had mixed results. There has been growth with little development. Opportunities have increased, but appear to be limited to the few.
Policies seem to benefit particular supporters, and selected families, and this has caused unease among those who feel they have be relegated to the fringes of society. Our institutions appear to be controlled by other geographies with the permission of indigenous persons, and many young voters feel dejected and underserved.
Party politics has served some of our people very well, with a significant sector of citizens feeling they have been by-passed. There has been one person rule over parties, and internal rivalries are not uncommon.
Leadership challenges have surfaced, and this distracts from real policy initiatives which serve the country as a whole. Certain issues involving some party leaders have had international implications which have not served the country’s image well.
TCI political parties have been somewhat insular, sometimes, and development has been uneven and spotty not significantly impacting the pockets of the people. Nationalism has not made a dent on many citizens’ consciousness, and individualism seems to be the ethic of the day. Politics has also become more attractive as a job with big possibilities, not as an instrument which serves the national good.