What costs … doing the right thing?

There have been those who through the ages have, at great sacrifice to themselves, chosen to do the right thing.

The Bible is replete with stories of men and women who, in the face of insurmountable odds, derision and scorn, chose to do not what was expedient, but what was right.

Although this exclusive group hardly includes politicians, there are few who could be counted among the lot of those who went against conventional wisdom. The story is told of Theodore Roosevelt of the United States of America and Winston Churchill of Great Britain, who, in the midst of World War II, made the decision to join the allies and to plunge their respective countries into battle.

The decision was not popular, and was in direct contravention of the insight coming from their advisors. However, given how the war was shaping up, both men felt that had the Nazis succeeded, the threat to freedom and democracy would be at stake and that it was only a matter of time before the world would be ruled by men with evil intentions.

Both men weighed the cost of not entering the fray and decided the price was just too high. The eventual losses, especially to England, in men and infrastructure, were astronomical. Today, no one in his right mind could say the decision was wrong. What price for democracy?

Here in our neck of the woods, our leaders are not being called upon to make decisions that will change the course of world history. The choices they are asked to make every day will hardly make a ripple beyond these shores. Some, however, will have far-reaching repercussions for us way beyond what we can envisage.

On March 31, a High Court judge made a landmark ruling. A sitting prime minister was dislodged from the helm of Antigua & Barbuda, and his entire administration was disrupted. This could lead to a situation for which the country may be ill prepared, a general election, one year into the five-year term.

The blame for the fiasco has been placed in the lap of the Electoral Commission. Words like ‘incompetent’ were used by the learned judge to describe its handling of the process. What does a leader do? What are the options open to him? Does he bury his head in the proverbial sand? Does he ignore the judge’s summation and because of fraternal loyalties continue with the sitting commissioners? Is it politically expedient not to upset the apple cart and to maintain the status quo?

The ball is literally in the court of the prime minister. The decision he makes on this one will speak volumes about his leadership. Over the past six years his headship has been tested. He has admitted to not getting it right some of the time. In this one can he afford not to? How will history record his actions or lack thereof? Will he be numbered amongst those who do the right thing and hold them accountable despite their verbose rhetoric in defence of their actions?

Although the judge was not asked to determine the validity of the electoral rolls, long before the general elections, no less a person than a former electoral commissioner warned of several practices which made the lists less than clean.

His warnings were ignored. His advice was not heeded. The elections happened and the chickens have come home to roost. It has suddenly dawned on the prime minister that he just might have to face the polls using lists that are tainted.

What will he do? Again he is being called upon to do the right thing. What will be the cost to re-register the entire country? What cost is there in electing a government chosen fairly by the people? What price for democracy?

Another US president is credited with saying that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. He meant that democracy and freedom are very fragile things, and to keep them sustained they have to be watched, or they would disappear. Democracy is not guaranteed. It has to be created, and then watched.

In short, what price for eternal vigilance, to ensure the right thing?