For the second time in as many years Grenadians have voted against a referendum to alter or change the Constitution. While the turnout was low, the message was clearly sent – the people are not in favour of the referendum.
In my opinion, the people have no problem voting in favour of the CCJ as our final court of appeal, rather, the people had serious issues with the process and the fact that the vast majority of the population was ignorant of the bill proposing the change. To ask a people to vote on something they are ignorant about is deceptive to say the least.
The question is what was the big rush to join the CCJ? Wouldn’t it have been better to ensure a major education drive rather than the few in-house meetings before asking the people to vote? I believe the people did the right thing – where you are confused about a matter like this, vote No.
Having said the foregoing, let me try to give my opinion on why the referendum failed. I hasten to say that I believe the referendum failed at the very inception. Those who decided on the referendum at this time were riding on their success in the last election, and they thought that having fifteen seats in parliament would have translated automatically to victory in the referendum.
In fact, the Prime Minister posited that he was confident they could have won even with the opposition the bill was facing. I, on the other hand, always believed that a referendum could never succeed without the support of the opposition parties, civil society, and the unions.
So why did the referendum fail?
First, the voters were not enthused about voting again after the last election. I have spoken to many people who felt that they needed a breather. Many people became disenchanted with the electoral system and were just not motivated to go out and vote.
Additionally, many people felt there was some kind of sinister move on which they felt was responsible for the rush to join the CCJ. Of course, no one could really say whether or not this is so.
Second, as I hinted above, a referendum cannot succeed when there is so much opposition to it. The proponents must know that to gain a two-thirds majority is much more difficult when there is popular opposition. The opposition was brought about by the rejection of the ideas put forward by the unions, civil society, and the political parties. And this brings me to the third reason – the arrogance of the members of the Advisory Committee.
To my mind, the committee felt they were large and in charge. They felt that it was their way or nothing at all. So who were the folks making noise and recommending change to the bill?
At the meetings their arrogance and high mindedness were clearly recognised, and because of that they failed to explain the bill to the understanding of the common man. How can you get the ordinary man to buy in?
Their arrogance would not allow them to advise the cabinet on postponing the event, because to them they had it under control even if the electorate knew nothing of the bill and this is the fourth reason the referendum failed – the lack of education of the public.
How can we vote on what we do not know? The most logical thing to do in this regard is to vote no. Having a few meetings in selected parts of the communities cannot be seen as educating the masses. A six month period is not sufficient either.
A complex matter like this, and one that is very important needs a far greater amount of time to be explained to the people. The committee failed to make ample use of the social media and their message did not resonate with the ordinary folks. They were too busy trying to convince an ignorant public to vote on something they had no clue about.
Why couldn’t the referendum be held a year from now to give space for more education of the people? Was the rush for political mileage? Here I go to the next reason – the politicising of the issue.
The Prime Minister heaped the blame on the NDC for politicising the referendum. It was the NDC which reached out to the proponents to be a part of the process. However, as a responsible party when the NDC recognised the flaws in the system, they brought it to the attention of the committee and asked for a postponement of the vote in order to fix the bill.
It was when their voices were not being heard, they said that they support the CCJ in principle but cannot support the bill in its current form. I had no problem with that. If there was any politicising it was on the part of the government.
MPs were going around in meetings urging people to vote yes. NNP operatives were handing out jerseys saying vote yes, NNP supporters were calling radio and TV programs and branding potential no voters as unpatriotic. Yes!
The issue was politicised but it was done by the proponents of the referendum. The referendum would have succeeded if the proponents made a greater effort to get other people on board. So where do we go from here?
The Prime Minister has suggested that he would not hold another referendum while being Prime Minister. Whoever calls the shot must bear the following in mind:
• Education is vital – more time must be given for allowing the public to be educated sufficiently. It is foolish and deceptive to ask people to vote on matters that they are ignorant of.
• There should be no rush to change any part of the constitution – any effort so to do must be well thought out.
• Proponents of the next referendum must bear in mind that no referendum can succeed without widespread support. Exclusion of opposition parties, union and civil societies is a recipe for failure.
• Such an issue must never be politicised.
• The government must not spend state resources to encourage a yes vote.
• The committee must condescend to the common man.
Finally, I do believe that the majority of the people are in favour of the CCJ. However, the process was too flawed to get their support of the polls.