Demming: 23% of T&T supports government; but here’s how to increase participation

I can blame Covid-19 for feeling stuck, but that would not be entirely honest. That feeling of ‘stuck-ness’ has been happening for a while and Covid-19 has only made it more intense. 

My observation of Parliament, via the Parliament Channel, often evokes the thought that I have heard this before; particularly the comments that this-or-that critical piece of legislation cannot be passed because it needs a three-fifths majority and the opposition is not cooperating. 

Photo: Opposition Leader and head of UNC political party Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

Assuming that the Opposition will spend the next 58 months taking that same non-cooperative approach, the government ought to change its strategy and charge ahead on issues which do not need their support.

Since 2001, constitutional amendment has been discussed with varying levels of intensity. During the 2010 general election, there was rigorous discussion on the campaign trail and the People’s Partnership promised to: ‘…establish a Constitution Commission to engage in the widest possible consultation as a prerequisite to constitutional reform’. 

This promise materialised with the establishment of the Constitutional Reform Commission and the subsequent release of their report in December 2013, but there has been no real change and we remain stuck as a country.

Further evidence of this ‘stuck-ness’ can be gleaned from the continued low voter turnout that we have been experiencing. From highs of 69.4% in the 2010 general elections and 67.27% in 2015, the turnout in 2020 fell to 58.4%.   

The current PNM administration has been endorsed by only 23% of the population. Mind you, it is the same percentage which the Congress of the People (COP) and the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR) received previously without gaining any seats in Parliament. 

Image: Voter turnout in Trinidad and Tobago.
(via Dennise Demming)

From a government perspective, it should be worrying to consider that three-quarters of the population either voted against you or were so uninspired that they did not even register a vote.

Our constitution is clear on our rights and freedoms as individuals but does not describe what our duties and responsibilities are as citizens. Maybe a soft approach to engaging the 75% of the population who are either indifferent or against you is to begin a discussion about our duties and responsibilities.

This discussion would provide an opportunity to raise a national discussion about the extent to which we are interdependent and what our expectations of each other are. It may even result in citizens taking a moment to reflect on the role we play in each other’s lives and how we can participate in moving our country forward. 

To introduce a listing of the roles and responsibilities of citizens requires an amendment to the constitution which can be had by a simple majority. Think of the profound impact this discussion can have on the thinking of the average person who isn’t interested or doesn’t understand politics and its effect on them. 

If we accept the notion that awareness often precedes behaviour change, it could be the catalyst for the behaviour change which we often say is necessary. Imagine the profound impact such a discussion could have on our children, teenagers and ordinary citizens.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during the 2020 General Election campaign.
(via PNM)

I reflect warmly on the discussions I heard as a child in the lead up to Independence and it makes me feel proud that the elders in East Dry River were engaged in these discussions. 

After 58 years of independence, negative discussions about race, corruption and crime dominate the media and discussion platforms. 

Maybe a national discussion about our duties and responsibilities as citizens could serve as the lever to propel us in a more positive direction.

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About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a Communication Strategist, Political Commentator and Event Planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing Business Communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise holds an MBA, a B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and a certificate Mass Communications from UWI.

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