EDITORIAL: Change requires comfort

The people have spoken.  Antigua and Barbuda will retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court of appeal.  The status quo will remain in Grenada as well, as they too rejected the move to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).  While this was our first vote on the matter, it was Grenada’s second in just two years, and the results demonstrated how little ground the pro-CCJ campaign made since the last referendum there. 

In absolute numbers, and according to the preliminary figures released by the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) in Grenada, those supporting the move to the CCJ mustered 9,846 votes compared to the 12,133 that voted to keep the Privy Council.  Little has changed since the last referendum when 9,492 were in favour of the move to the CCJ and 12,434 against.  In our bit of paradise, the numbers reported by the Electoral Commission were not much different as the pro-CCJ vote could not muster a simple majority.  9,234 rejected the proposal to switch courts and 8,509 voters gave approval of the Bill that would have allowed a constitutional change that is required to make the move to the Trinidad-based CCJ.  

In terms of percentages, in Antigua and Barbuda, 48 percent voted for the CCJ move while in Grenada only 45 percent supported the Constitutional amendment.

These results have already prompted the finger-pointing and the gloating; neither of which is necessary.  Both Grenada Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and Prime Minister Gaston Browne have laid the loss at the feet of the opposition, washing their hands clean of any responsibility for the failed campaigns.  

That was the expected political response so no one should be surprised, but things are never that simple. 

The responses, of course, do not reconcile with the popularity of both men and their parties; especially considering their landslide victories in the last set of general elections.  In March of this year, Mitchell and his New National Party (NNP) were re-elected for a second successive term, winning all 15 seats up for grabs.  Similarly and coincidentally, a week after the NNP victory, Gaston Browne and the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) were swept to a second victory, losing only 2 seats from a total of 17 in the parliament.  Those results occurred just eight short months ago, so it goes without saying that both men and their parties are immensely popular and have the support of the majority.  So, with that kind of popularity and influence, and in the face of weakened oppositions, how do you place the blame on the opposition?  

To think that in just  eight months, the two devastated opposition parties could rebound to such strength, so as to have the type of influence being foisted upon them, is unbelievable.  And while it is a safe and easy political response, what the politicians failed to realise, from day one, is that the CCJ referendum is not politics.  Sure, there are some who blindly followed each party and their stance on the matter, but as the results clearly demonstrate, the concerns regarding our apex court of justice and all the other issues the people deem more pressing cross the political divide.  Treating the lead-up to the CCJ referendum in the same way you would run a political campaign, with all the nastiness that is usually associated with such, was a giant mistake.  And if no one decides to investigate why the people voted the way that they did and cater the next campaign to address their questions and concerns, then history will repeat  itself, just like it did in Grenada.

As we have said many times before, the CCJ is a necessary evolution for the region, but it will not happen until the majority of people feel comfortable with the move.  The pro-CCJ campaign did not deliver that comfort.  And judging by the press statement by the President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, we doubt that the necessary steps will be taken to educate the public in the way that will deliver the answers and comfort they desire.  In Justice Saunder’s mind, one of the positives that he saw was that “there was sustained public education in both nations and the conversation about the CCJ intensified.”  We respect that may be his perception, and we really cannot speak for the Grenada campaign, but the reality is much different here.  Few were “educated” about the CCJ and the Privy Council and the only “conversation” that was “intensified” was the propaganda, the name-calling and race- baiting.  

We hope that all involved in the “education” process will recognise the deficiencies in the approach and the message.  Having pro-CCJ advocates berate people and call them names simply because they have a difference of opinion, only amplifies where the campaign went wrong.  Instead of greeting concerns with educated responses and fostering comfort, they were ignored and people insulted.  That is not to say that there was not a healthy dose of heated rhetoric and propaganda on the pro-Privy Council side, but the burden was not theirs to deliver change.   

We truly hope that, as Justice Saunders said in the wake of the referendum results, the CCJ will have “a renewed focus on public education” and will take advantage of the increased audience, because a genuine effort to educate those uncomfortable with the move is the only key to unlocking victory at the polls.  

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