Dookeran was speaking at the El Dorado Cooperative Complex, Tunapuna at an event focused on "Building Institutions for Democracy”.
Dookeran's presentation is reproduced below:
Several years ago, at my home in Tacarigua I had the distinguished privilege to meet the noted laureate, V.S. Naipaul, a controversial, provocative and gifted writer. He enquired from me: how do we measure whether a society is progressing or not?
I replied by listing all the social and economic indices, as an economist, that I have come to know. Sir Naipaul responded by saying I was totally wrong and offered, as his litmus test of a progressing society, the concept of a conversation index.
He asked: What are people talking about in the rum shop at lunch hour, at work or classroom, in Parliament and social gatherings? Measuring the conversation index is the best reflection of whether a society is progressing or not.
For years I pondered on this insight as I embrace the challenge of advocating high energy politics into our conversation. So I attempted to change the political conversation from what I then described as gatekeepers politics. You may recall at Mid Centre Mall in February 19, 2006, at a political rally, I faced hostility and boos from the crowd when I made the call to get our politics right.
Little did I realize how difficult and dangerous that journey would have been. It took an election defeat in 2007 for me to begin to understand “what is power in politics”. In 2010 I evoked the concept of the burden of leadership and engaged in the fix-it election of 2010.
Fixing the constitution has been a source of political tension for over half a century in our society as our people grapple with this task. First, it was the proposal of the Wooding Commission of 1975, then the timid Hyatali Report of 1987 and now in 2014 the statement of Ramadhar’s Constitution Reform Commission.
In all instances there has been a hesitancy to embrace any model of constitutional and electoral change. Why? There are many explanations but the one that I would highlight today is that such change will alter the distribution of power in the society, a step that is difficult to make.
The hesitancy in which I referred is really rooted in the working of a “political market”. Ruth Grant, a noted political philosopher, at a lecture at Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, during my tenure there, entitled, “Ethics in Politics”: institutional solutions and there limits, drew attention to the pretense of virtue and idealism in political behavior. She argued and I quote:
“Political relations ordinarily understood as power relations, can just as readily be conceived as relations of dependence. They are dependencies among people who require one another’s voluntary cooperation but whose interests are in conflict. In such a situation, trust is required but highly problematic, and the pressures towards hypocrisy are immense.”
Harvard University professor, Cindy Skash whose work was on the “Making of Constitution” forcefully argued in the recent paper entitled, Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation, that:“political situations depend not only on economic and social conditions but also on the design of political institutions”.
Hence in the program today the byline of my presentation is “Politics is the biggest obstacle to Economic Development.” I would outline only some aspects of the election formula which must be adhered to:
- Politics and political institutions must embrace political differences in a society
- Party system must discover the high energy politics by confronting the ideology and ethnic cleavages in our society
- The basic requirement of democratic governance is the full public inclusion in the electoral process
We may remember Dr. Eric William’s Independence Day address of August 31 1962 when he declared, “Democracy finally rests on a higher power than Parliament, the Members of Parliament are only representative of the citizens….they cannot represent apathy and indifferences.”
In 2007 at the launch of the Congress of the People, I said that the nation is on edge…we have the option to remain shackled to the system where the principal purpose is expansion of embedded power over the people at all cost, or we must move from a choiceless democracy to a politic of real choice.
As I continue in 2012 in the book Politics, Power and Performance, I argued,
“An Electoral Agenda gets the political parties into power, but it is the Political Agenda that establishes legitimacy and it is the Governance Agenda that ensures credibility of the Government. Ultimately, it is the Trust in Leadership that energizes sustainable political and societal development process to improve income equality, inclusiveness and prosperity.”
Today in this agonizing moment of our society, I am reminded of Rabindranath Tagore’s expression, “The worst form of bondage is the bondage of dejection, which keeps men hopelessly chained in loss of faith in themselves”. Let us not lose faith, let us not be angry, let us not be reckless, let us discover our own power and I resolve to continue working with you to get the politics right."
Winston Dookeran - 22 March 2014