An open letter to the parliamentary opposition
Many years ago, it must have been the mid-1970s or early 1980s, my family and I were holidaying in Canada, and we were taken to a playground, I cannot recall whether it was in Ottawa or Toronto, where huge screen, resembling a draughts-board, was so wired that, no matter how hard you tried, you could not win, because every move you made towards winning was automatically blocked. I played the game twice. I lost the first one. The second, I won. And how? I deliberately made a move that was clearly not a winning move and the machinery that activated the board, not programmed such a move, had no way of responding to it. In fact, its delayed and inappropriate response opened the way for me to win. This is not a made-up story. I still have my prize to prove it.
Gentlemen, you have a problem; but let no one make you feel that it is you who brought it on yourselves. Had you been the perfect Parliamentary Opposition with the perfect Leader, the problem would still be there, for it is a chronic disease that has afflicted electoral politics in the Commonwealth of Dominica as nowhere else I know. The problem is this. Thanks to the framers of our Constitution no "Winner (can) take all" unless all the seats are captured, and the Douglas-Charles International Airstrip can accommodate the plane loads of imported voters to achieve that result. Entrenched in our Constitution is the legitimacy of, and necessity for, a Parliamentary Opposition with a Leader who is appointed by the Head of State, without consultation with, or approval by, the Prime Minister. That important provision is the first line of defense against a potential and creeping dictatorship. It is the third to last recourse against the uprising of a disgusted people. It is noticeable, however, that for the past thirty-eight years of our Independence, every sitting Government has conducted the people's business as though a Parliamentary Opposition was an unnecessary humbug and a mistake. The psyche of Government after Government soon becomes infected with a paranoia in its attitude towards those Parliamentarians, also elected by the people, who face them across the aisle. In recent years, however, that alienation has intensified rather than abated. And why? Because, let us face it, participation in politics is no longer just about politics. It is livelihood. It is a gold rush. It is a ladder of escape from that to this, from down there to up here, from back then to now at last, and from what I was to what I have become; and therefore the very appearance of an alternative to them over there, over whom they can have no control, facing and addressing them at every sitting of the Parliament, is simply intolerable to the Ruling Party. It is unnerving. It is too much for them. No nightmare is so dreadful as the likelihood of a removal from Office in a General Election that is fair and free. So it has been in the past, so it is now, and that disease will not go away should you succeed in the next General Election. It will persist. Watch it. Watch it.
That explains briefly the acrimony that keeps agitating our adversarial politics. Had your Leader been the Archangel Michael, heaven-sent, he would still have been demonized on the airwaves and vilified in the Press. Ruling Parties in Dominica just do not like Opposition Parties. Period. And though that is what our Constitution has instituted as a critical factor for the protection of our Democratic system, yet from a position of power, that limitation is a thorn in the flesh. Now, in your particular case, the acrimony has further escalated because your Leader, The Honourable Lennox Linton, has surfaced out of "another Dominica", bringing with him a legacy of attitudes and values, which for him are vital, but of which those of the Government side have apparently never heard, and which seem to them dangerous delusions they would rather avoid. Mr. Linton has come to them thoroughly convinced that Right is, and has every right to be, Might - a claim which, to them, is strange doctrine. It cuts across their ethos. It goes against the grain. It rubs them the wrong way. It upsets their apple-cart. It makes them jittery. For them it is Might, and only Might, that must be Right. Right is really Left. Left is Wrong, and Wrong is Might – and back to square one.
Now, the personification of their preferred principle is not, as one would expect, the Prime Minister, because he is much too clever to advance that principle publicly. That honour has been bestowed upon the Speaker of the House of Assembly, who has been specially hand-picked to propound and hammer the principle that Might is Right and, on to shape the proceedings of the House accordingly. That, Gentlemen, is the problem you have not yet recognized. When you assemble to do the people's business, you are under the authority of a Speaker who can verbally battle, bruise, defeat and crush all six of you put together, especially if, as is your present misfortune, you are all men; and afterwards return to her home, well pleased that, by pulverizing and humiliating you, she has done her country a service.
Your Leader, and some others of you have not yet got it. You believe, as in a normal situation you ought to, that you can stand up to her and lock horns with her, if you have the Right on your side. Forget it. As they say in Antigua, "Nutt'n go so". No. Not in her House; not under her watch. Don't ask me to resolve for you a Parliamentary dilemma that can succeed only in her conversion or her ejection. I can't. Even for me she presents a problem. Here am I, lately returned to the land of my birth having travelled far and wide, and I am satisfied that, when it comes to the quality and character of our womenfolk, my little Dominica can stand up proud and tall before the rest of the world, and take on any contending state; and what is even more refreshing to me is that this natural beauty is evenly spread across our entire Wytukoubuli. It shines at every social level; and the stronger their personality, and the more brilliant and sophisticated they are, and the more confident in themselves, and the more satisfied with their own gender, the more pleasing they are in the eyes of their male counterparts, the more easily they can entreat us, the more compliant we are to their wishes, the more susceptible to their charms, the happier we are with them and, I can only hope and pray, they with us. I may be wrong, but that, as I see it, is the reality of Dominican womanhood. God has truly blessed us.
And so, when I watch the Speaker of the House in full cry and I am frankly puzzled. Where has all this male aggression and macho pugnacity come from? Why is she like that? What is it that so prompts her, compels her, yea, excites her to use her privilege and advantage as Speaker of the House to publicly belittle and humiliate grown men, and then go home believing that such an achievement is the quintessence of womanhood? To that question, Gentlemen, I have no answer. Is this but a foretaste, and was this the intention, of women's liberation and gender equality? And is this a sign of the times? Then, O Lord, come quickly. In the meantime, I invite anyone to search every square inch of our 294 square miles, from Scott's Head to Capuchin, dig up our archives as far back as you can go, and I guarantee you will not find anywhere, in my isle of beauty, isle of splendour, any evidence of a precedent, or a double, or an equal, or a second or, hopefully, a miniature. That is why, Gentlemen, you have been so slow in adjusting to the travesty that the Dominica House of Assembly has become. You are confronted by an aberration, before which you are vulnerable and about which you can do nothing, because, in there, Might is Right; and unless and until you can muster at least a dozen seats, your "No Confidence motions" will be an exercise in futility for, when in the course of your spirited presentation you think you are in full flight and about to strike the first blow, she can crash you and will not think twice in so doing. By just saying so, she can turn your unpalatable criticism, however valid, into something called an "improper motive", which no other member of the House, on your side (you included) or on her side, had ever discerned or suspected, until her arbitrary interruption, and there is nothing, I repeat nothing, you can do about it. That essentially is your problem, Gentlemen.
Your tragic mistake, up to now, has been your naive optimism. You have fancied that, by taking issue with her, you ought to prevail because Right is on your side, but you have only found yourselves falling into her trap again and again, which is exactly as she planned, because just there she is in her element, and there she will always have the advantage, for whether she is right or wrong is immaterial. You cannot win, because the only Right in her House is her Might. You cannot out-talk her, you cannot out-shout her, and whenever she pleases she can, and she will, hammer your insolence with the demand for an apology and, if you still haven't got the message, she can, and she will, order you out of her domain and call on her Sergeant-at- arms to help you gather your papers and guide your exit. Meanwhile, your mordant criticisms and your well-rehearsed Motion of No Confidence, however valid, will become lost, forgotten and scattered to the Four Winds. Who then is the winner? Your Right? Or her Might?
So here is my advice for what it is worth (no charge!). The next time she interrupts in order to distract you and provoke a confrontation, please, don't take her on. Look her full in the face, eye-ball to eye-ball, but say absolutely nothing. If what she says has merit, take heed. But if it is just another ploy to throw you off your track, let her talk and, when she is finished, just continue, without even murmuring "as I was saying before I was so ……ly interrupted". No! Don't! Just continue with your presentation from the point of her interruption as if nothing happened, and the Hansard is blank. That should do the trick, for the one thing she cannot do is to compel you to respond in kind, and the one response that kind of character cannot handle is to be politely ignored. But that is just an outsider's advice. Remember, however, that I won the game by pretending to lose, whereas, so far, you have been consistently losing by trying too hard to overcome.
William W. Watty