Editorial: The referendum orphan

Photo taken from: writinglives.org

As you would have been able to tell from our opinion on the recent referendum regarding the constitutional amendment to allow the move to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final court of appeal, we were really hoping that those who crafted and executed the “pro CCJ” campaign would recognise that the key deficiencies were the lack of engagement, the politicisation of the subject matter and process, and the absence of real dialogue and education.

Sadly, that has obviously not happened.  And that fact became evident after receiving the most recent Cabinet briefing notes.  In the cocoon of cabinet, the analysis came down to a back-patting exercise where the members concluded that everything was done correctly and were it not for a powerful opposition force, the super-majority threshold would have been met, and Antigua and Barbuda would turn to the Trinidad-based CCJ for their apex court rather than the inherited Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

We understand the attempt to distance the administration and the party from any type of blame, but what came out of Cabinet is really mind-blowing.  The Cabinet members apparently discussed the results of the November 6, 2018, referendum on the CCJ, and it was their considered opinion that “the non-participation of more than 35,000 voters was a powerful signal … deemed a clear indication of the absence of interest in constitutional reform.”  That seems to be a bit of a stretch to bundle all desire for constitutional reform with the CCJ turnout. 

Beyond that, “the Cabinet agreed that the disappointing results could be accounted for by the politicisation of the referendum by opposition political forces.”  Again, we do not understand how a poorly funded, severely weakened opposition could be so influential.  If that is the administration’s assessment of the power of the opposition, just eight months after a political drubbing in the general election, then they see things that no one else sees.  Plus, to say that the politicisation of the issue belonged solely to the opposition is a ridiculous proposition.  The CCJ was politicised from the start and the campaigns ended up being very similar to an election with the blaring loudspeakers, name-calling and overall nastiness.

Then there is the absurd assertion that the “National Coordinating Committee (NCC) played an education/middle-of-the-road role.”  What?!?  The only way that that could be grammatically correct is if the road was one-way and it led to the doorstep of the CCJ in Trinidad.  That is the only way that the NCC’s efforts could be considered middle-of-the-road.  Not only that, all the multi-million dollars of education funding and resources were in support of the “pro-CCJ” campaign so how can that be considered middle-of-the-road?

An Italian quote made famous by John F. Kennedy, says, “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan,” and that is clearly how the “pro-CCJ” campaign has turned out.  The notes state that the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) decided to abide by principle and not engage in politicising the issue, but was it not the Prime Minister who publicly stated on radio, “I am of the view that the Labour Party has to take a frontal role in this now, based on what’s happening,” and “we expect every single Labour Party supporter to support this transition?”  Sounds quite political to us.

The defeat must be hard, and maybe that is why the response is strong because this was a well-calculated affair.  After the first referendum defeat in Grenada, PM Browne said that he would not enter a referendum unless he is convinced his government would be victorious. At a press brief following the loan signing for the port, he said, “After we would have conducted a poll this year or later next year, and we do not have the majority, then the referendum will be put on the side.” Adding, “So unlike the government of Grenada, who went into a referendum blind, we will not do so. We will be informed by science. And if the science says the people don’t want it, it will be postponed for another time.”  In their final analysis, faulty science and not the people should shoulder the blame for failing the PM and the “pro-CCJ” movement.

In the end, no one will stick their hand up and own this defeat.  There will be no politician resigning like former UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the BREXIT vote.  No, we will continue like nothing happened.  The PM has already said that all constitutional reform that requires a referendum is basically dead. That is one of the penalties the country will pay for voting no to the CCJ.  Like Pontius Pilate, everyone will wash his or her hands of this decision because, after all, it was the will of the people.

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