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Recent discourse on social media platforms has led me to conclude that we need to have a discussion on leadership, characteristics of good leaders and statesmanship.
Sixty-eight years after universal adult suffrage (the right to vote), we seemed to be stuck with the archaic concept of charismatic leadership. If the voters have no clue what a good leader is, or what are the characteristics of a good political leader, then it’s obvious that we have a problem.
Physical appearance and communication skills should not be the most significant criterion when selecting a political leader. Unfortunately, too many believe that a good political leader should have a certain look and accent in order to rouse their base and lead their party to electoral victory. And yes, in Saint Lucia, we cannot avoid the discussion on race and politics. We have had a long history of voting in mulatoes and “white-looking” political leaders. Most if not every other CARICOM member state has had a lot more diversity in terms of the complexion of their prime ministers and presidents. We need to ask ourselves why the obsession with physical appearance?
The philosopher Robert K Greenleaf described a good statesman as a very intelligent individual who has a history of service to others, has knowledge of history, has great foresight, and the courage to act. Other characteristics include being a good listener, empathy, awareness, persuasion, stewardship, committed to the growth of people and building community. The age, sex, and race of the politician should be insignificant – their character is. Does the individual presenting themselves for political representation have a history of service to the community? Does the individual have a history of being trustworthy? Does the individual have a history of working well with others? Will the individual, when elected into office, lead democratically?
The world has long moved away from the concept of individualistic leadership to group approach. The world has long moved away from someone who is able to deliver great soundbites but to an individual who could work with others, consult, give great thought and decipher the most appropriate solution for every issue.
It is time we change the mindset that the politicians once voted in, have a right to do as they please, as the politicians have all the answers. What we need is more consultation. No politician should head to parliament to represent a constituency before first holding a series of town hall meetings in his/her constituency identifying priorities and discussing possible solutions. Having a constituency day and discussions with key supporters is not enough. Constituency development meetings should be open to all and not just party supporters. Rules of engagement should be provided beforehand, and constituents need to be taught how to be respectful to their leaders even if they support another party.
The truth is a district representative may institute a series of projects in his constituency such as roads, footpaths, bridges, sports complexes, school rehabilitation projects, resource centres, etc. However, the politician still falls short of pleasing his constituents because the health facility which the constituents felt was the priority was not addressed. Politicians also need to understand also that no matter how bright or educated they are, they do not have all the answers. The best solutions may come from one of the least educated members of your constituency.
“We need a new party with inexperienced politicians,” “give the youth a chance”, “ we need more women in parliament,” “ this politician is so handsome/cute,” “ your party needs a white-skin political leader or else they will never win” – let us cut these out and respect everyone’s right to submit themselves for higher office.
This political season let us please throw away the archaic mindset. Forget the insults and let’s discuss issues. Let us examine the history of service and characteristics of each individual who submit themselves to be selected for higher office then exercise our franchise.