Elections and national issues

by Dr. Brian Francis

Anyone following the lead up to the Presidential elections in the United States has to agree with the pundits that that election is likely to be one of the most bitterly contested in recent times.

That conclusion is based in part on the extent of negativity in some of the advertisements taken out thus far on both sides – the Democrats and Republicans.

Fortunately, last weekend the soon-to-be confirmed Republican Presidential candidate has announced Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate and immediately many in the media have concluded that the Vice-presidential candidate will force a shift in focus from personal attacks to the most pressing issue facing the country – the financial and economic health of the nation.

Given the Congressman’s expertise and experience in financial and economic matters it is no surprise that the Republicans would want to fully capitalise on his knowledge and take the fight to President Obama given his record in the management of the economy over the past four years.

With just over eighty days left before Americans go to the polls to elect a new President, no one could predict with certainty the direction in which the campaign will head.

However, it is my wish that little time is spent on personal attacks and that most of the resources at the disposal of both political parties is directed to relevant national issues.

Indeed, the desire to focus on national issues as opposed to engaging in personal attacks is not only relevant in the context of the Presidential elections in the United States.

We in Barbados will soon be presented with a similar choice once the election bell is rung. Let us be clear about one thing: campaigning for general elections is hard work.  While there is some room for “humour” our politicians cannot afford to waste too much time and energy in unproductive activities while there are so many critical national issues to be urgently addressed.

What are those issues? Anyone who has been keeping track of developments in Barbados over the past few years would be quite aware of some of the major challenges confronting this country legally, politically, socially, culturally, and economically.

Hence, there should be no shortage of national issues that our politicians can and must address during the election period. On the economic front, for example, I believe that two sets of issues should dominate the campaign: macroeconomic issues and sectoral concerns.

On the macroeconomic side, all of the political parties contesting the elections should at the minimum present the country with clear and specific plans for generating employment especially for our young people, lowering the incidence of poverty, reducing the cost of living, restructuring the local economy, and managing the fiscal and debt situation.

At the sectoral level, the public should be made aware of the roles to be played by agriculture, manufacturing, construction, international business, and tourism in growing and developing the local economy.

For example, what type of tourism (high or low end) do we want for Barbados?  What roles should communities play in the development of our tourism product?

You see, after all is said and done, just as the Red Plastic Bag has said, “the country is going through a phase.”

I am sure all and sundry know exactly what that phase has and continues to be.  The upcoming election is a great opportunity, therefore, for us to turn the tide in the right direction.  But that can only happen if the various political parties are totally dedicated to dealing with national issues and not personal attacks.

(Dr. Brian Francis is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)

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