The country’s two major political parties, the ruling PNM and opposition UNC, have been engaged in screening candidates for the upcoming general elections.
The process has historically been fraught with internal wrangling in both parties, as their screening committees, led by their respective political leaders, sometimes come up with candidates that party members do not always know or want.
Over the last month, it has become clear this year will be no different, especially as the PNM and UNC have both signalled their intent to go to the electorate with fresh faces.
We must acknowledge that both parties have their own constitution and ways of doing business, but if we are to deepen the democratic process, neither the PNM, UNC, nor any political party can argue that their candidate selection process should be exempt from public scrutiny.
In the United States, in order to become your party’s choice to contest a position on any elected body, you must be prepared to first face-off with other candidates willing to contest the election on behalf of the party. It is only after emerging from the process can one represent a party.
In T&T, no such primary process exists and instead, we have in the PNM a situation where people are expected to be nominated by the constituency groups, constituency executives and finally the party’s screening committee.
The UNC is different, with individuals allowed to sign nomination papers – thus their candidacies cannot be said to really come from the people but rather from the party as a whole.
By its very nature, the process adopted by the UNC puts the power of determining candidates in the hands of a few and not party members.
While the PNM’s process seems to add some greater depth to the democratic process, the recent rejection of vice-chairman Robert Le Hunte’s candidacy and the seeming willingness to accommodate Ambassador Penny Beckles-Robinson in Arima reeks of a system in which the constituents only have a say if the leadership allows.
If Mr Le Hunte is not good enough to be a candidate after being the nominated more than once by the party groups, then they and the constituents deserve to know what he has done that invalidates his candidacy.
It is not good enough to say this is the internal party process because it is the first step to determining who the Member of Parliament might be following general elections.
It was the late Lloyd Best who warned that democracy is not just about showing up on election day but about mobilising and putting forward your demands for a better society.
The global Black Lives Matter protests are not just about the systemic racism in the USA and other parts of the world but about the need for a deeper democracy which truly observes the will of the people.
In T&T, we too must deepen the democratic system, starting with our political parties.