By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 20, 2007
My mother used to say, “The more you live; the more you see.” She was correct. I never thought I would live to see the day when the Prime Minister of our country, at the opening of Parliament, offer his hand in friendship and camaraderie to the Leader of the Opposition, only to have the latter shake his hand and then wipe off the handshake with his handkerchief as if to say “I will to have nothing to do with you or this deliberative body.”
I never thought I would live to see the day when members of Parliament would be so rude to the Speaker of the House of Representatives that they would refuse to shake his hand at the opening of Parliament. Mickela Panday, caught in between what was courteous and what was crass simply nodded to the Speaker. If this is the lesson a father teaches his daughter in the glare of the national spotlight one wonders if he really has anything meaningful to say to the nation’s children.
The members of the Opposition could not even share a ceremonial drink with the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. They preferred the hospitality of Crown Plaza Hotel.
The members of the Opposition do not understand what civility, public accountability or plain decency demands. When someone is elected to the Parliament he ceases to represent him or herself. When one enters Parliament one speaks for the thousands of people who gave him or her the right to speak for them. One expects each person to do his duty and to conduct himself with grace and dignity.
In The Case for Party Politics, Eric Williams quoted Edmund Burke to give a sense of what it means to occupy such a high office. He said: “Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol; he is a Member of Parliament.”
Parliament represents the apogee of a people’s aspirations; a distillation of their political views; and a reflection of their noblest selves. We expect our representatives to conduct themselves in an honorable way which is why we call them honorable which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, designates behavior that is performed or accompanied with marks of respect and attesting to creditable conduct. Can we say that the behavior of these gentlepeople-except that of Winston Peters and Nizam Baksh-was accompanied by marks of respect or attested to credible conduct?
Is this the behavior that the members of public should expect from their servants who they granted the honor to represent their affairs in a public space? Is this the crassness and denigration that the Opposition wishes to communicate to our children?
During the elections, Jack Warner and Panday flew fourteen hours non-stop to meet Nelson Mandela. Some say they went to seek his endorsement; Panday said they went to get his guidance and advice. Whatever they went for there is one fundamental Mandela principle that they failed to receive from Mandela: that is, his belief that one cannot merely appeal to the head of one’s opponent to convince him about the truth or righteousness of one’s cause. One must also address his heart as well. This is why Mandela was victorious in South Africa.
UNC also brought Martin Luther King, III to convince the population that their project was one of peace and love. The UNC never understood Martin Luther King’s message to his people. King preached a gospel of the redemptive possibility of love. He believed that love is a more powerful emotion than hate and that you win over your opponent by love rather than hate. He lived and died by this message.
In one of his song, Bob Marley chanted: “You can fool some of the people, some time,/ You can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.”
This was the trinity (Mandela, King and Marley) through which UNC chose to convey its election message. However, UNC practices one kind of politics during election time and another after election. When the election is over the UNC releases its real fangs on the population.
How long they can live the charade of bombast; classlessness; crassness and bad manners?
Mr. Panday may have felt that he was slighting Mr. Manning. Yet, whatever his faults, no one can take away Manning’s class, his sophistication and his gravitas. He may not have been born of kings but he certainly carries himself in a kingly light. Panday, Warner or any of UNC’s lesser lights can never dim the luminosity of his presence.
The people who elected the UNC and in whose name they serve deserve representatives who understand what it means to act honorably. It takes little to be generous in spirit and even less brought-up-cy to understand the nobler cause that a Member of Parliament serves. The nation wins when the Opposition embraces these virtues.