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Journey to constitution reform

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Witness as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, elected with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood after the Egyptian Revolution released the country from the 30-year dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, after 100 days in power intends to usurp all of the power of the State.


In the process he has all but squandered the powerful Egyptian army and is now threatening to accrue virtually all the powers of the State to himself, including legislating against any legal challenge to his powers. Witness too, across the way, Syria’s entrenched ruling family refusing to relinquish power while President Bashar al-Assad has been directly responsible for the killing by the army of 20,000 people, mainly civilians.


In the process too, he has turned almost 500,000 Syrians into refugees with an estimated four million people desperately in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Organisation for Humanitarian Affairs.



This violent reaction and refusal by two leaders to come to terms with the emerging reality of people seeking to take charge of their societies and to determine for themselves the quality of governance required, are typical of reactionary politics when faced with an emerging political reality and ethic that contradicts their desire for total domination.   


While the dogma and the governance model of domination have become anachronistic, it is clear from the Syrian and Egyptian reactions that the masses seeking transformation and a revolution from tyrannical rule cannot go half the distance to reform. They cannot withdraw for one day and leave the work to be carried through by professional politicians.


That will not happen; as Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, demonstrated, the oppressed must relieve its own suffering. Those who hold power will not easily cede it; it has to be wrenched from their grasp.


The likes of Morsi, said to be following the instructions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its special group interests, and the al-Assad family in power since the 1960s, aspire to nothing else but family, group, ethno-religious and geographic self-interest. This phenomenon is at its worst when it ranks as nothing short of egotistical, self-proclaimed righteousness to rule.  


But it is not surprising that the struggle to retain total power by a privileged minority continues. And it is happening even after the Arab Spring and the challenges to traditional systems of exercising power. In Morsi and al-Assad, you have two desperately challenged men who are seeking to retain power.


In the Caribbean we have had our share of dictators—Trujillo, Duvalier—and dominant political figures of the Gairy, Williams, Bird and Burnham variation who cemented themselves in power for long stretches of time through different forms of domination.


But dissatisfaction with dominant systems of Government is not only apparent in traditional States with dictatorial systems, strongman leaders and the monarchy; it is becoming quite evident in so-called western parliamentary democracies.



“Public pressure on parliaments is greater than ever before,” is one of the findings of the Global Parliamentary Report. And “the presence of a parliamentary institution is not synonymous with democracy.” Further, the report indicates that parliaments are frequently the least popular institutions with only political parties having less credibility and significance.


“Within the European Union, trust in parliaments now stands at less than one third, while, in the US, trust in Congress hit its lowest ever point in November 2011, registering a mere nine per cent—a decline from 11 per cent two months earlier, the first time approval ratings have been in single digits since CBS News and The New York Times began asking the question more than three decades ago.”


In Latin America, the average trust of the population in parliaments measured 34 per cent. In Africa the belief in parliaments is strangely high at 54 per cent.



It would be interesting to find out the levels of belief in our Caribbean parliaments if a similar survey were to be conducted here. In this country, if the poll were taken after the Section 34 fiasco/duplicity/oversight (choose your description) the levels of belief in the Parliament and in particular in all Members of Parliament would probably shock those who believe they can spin themselves out of clear violations of the trust and on occasion, rank criminal behaviour.


I have highlighted these matters as an entry point into a few more of the constitutional changes that are pressing in on the society notwithstanding the reluctance of all political parties to seriously approach constitutional change for fear that it would weaken their hold on power.


To be continued


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