The Problem With Political Parties

Recently, we published an article entitled, "The Political Party Illusion," which dealt with the premise that, over time, most democracies become boiled down to two principle political parties that become much like sports teams, battling it out on the playing field. The article postulated that voters become devoted fans of one team or the other, generally with the result that they detest the opposing team, considering them to be not only incorrect, but in some ways, evil.

The reality is that the two parties, over time, have become two wings of the same predatory bird, as Judge Andrew Napolitano says, often controlled by corporations that provide the funding for election campaigns. This latter fact assures that party principles mean little or nothing, as the banks, corporations and other supporting agencies determine much of what becomes policy, regardless of which party gains office.

There was a time when the majority of political hopefuls were independent of one another. In today's politics, of course, those who are affiliated with one party or another would state that party affiliation is essential for good governance. Before deciding whether this is true, let's look at a situation in which a country had previously been devoid of political parties, but has, in recent years, converted (unofficially) to a party system. Having assessed the results over a few terms of party politics, the voters of that country are now weighing in with their own opinion on whether the new system should remain.

A Short History of Politics in the Cayman Islands

I am referring to the Cayman Islands, a small country of some 55,000 people, about half of which are indigenous and the other half from some 120 other countries. In 1962, The Cayman Islands were a protectorate of Jamaica, but when Jamaica went independent from the UK (and subsequently took a socialist political and economic nosedive), Cayman remained with Mother England. Since that time, Cayman has had its own Constitution and legislature, elected by the citizenry.

From the beginning, some political hopefuls had chosen to group together, in the hope that, if they were all elected, they would be able to outnumber a minority opposition. The loyalties between these groups of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were ever-changing, sometimes due to difference of opinion, sometimes due to changes in political opportunity. Whenever an individual MLA sought greater power for himself, he was likely to be ousted in the next election, as much by the MLAs he had pushed aside as by the voters.

This worked very well for the country, as it kept any MLA from ever becoming a de facto dictator. Conversely, of course, it did not serve would-be dictators well at all. As a result, some political hopefuls started to form "teams." The idea, of course, was to pool resources, put on a bigger election show, gain office, and then remain loyal to one another thereafter. This worked well for those teams that were elected, as, first, it limited the number of opposition MLAs in the House, and, second, it allowed for team leaders to behave inappropriately without their fellows blowing the whistle on them and taking them out.

After a few terms of team politics, it became clear to the MLAs that they would be even better served if they had formal parties, to which candidates would swear allegiance. (It is useful to note that these parties have not created the illusion of any particular "platform" or "party principles;" they claim to merely be associated "for the good of the country.")

The Problem With Cayman Islands Political Parties

At first, many Caymanians felt that the creation of parties was a "modernisation" that would bring increased stability to the country. However, after a few terms of this new approach, Caymanians are increasingly coming to the conclusion that neither party keeps its campaign promises, and neither party does much to fix the country's existing problems once they gain office. In fact, each party tends to blame all national problems on the other party, resulting in an endless charade of finger-pointing. (Does the reader see any similarity between this political microcosm and his own government?)

After just a few four-year terms of this nonsense, an increasing number of Caymanian voters have concluded that the party system has done nothing to benefit the country itself. It has served only to create career politicians with a lack of responsibility to the voters or, indeed, the country. Many voters are now rejecting both existing parties and are seeking an alternative.

Political Change Underway in the Caymans

Prior to the upcoming 2013 election, a change is already underway. Whilst the advantages of pooling funds for campaigns still seems beneficial, a move has begun to move away from formal parties. A "Coalition of Independents" is undergoing formation, complete with a set of principles to be followed, beginning with the dissolution of the implied obligation to vote along party lines. Each independent candidate remains an Independent following election - a return to the concept that each MLA represents his constituents, not his party.

Certainly, this is a positive step, and I would venture to say that it would be so for any other democracy in the world. But for those of us who possess a streak of cynicism, two questions remain:

  • Who is to say that the "coalition" concept is not merely clever marketing for what may prove to be just another political party? Time will tell.
  • Is this only possible in a small country, where the voters know their candidates personally and can change their system easily? I personally believe that this can be done in a larger country, but a necessary component to change is that the voters be aware of the fact that the party system is not their salvation, but their downfall. As long as the majority of voters in a country return, time after time, to the burning barn of party politics to save themselves, their enslavement will be assured.

For any major democracy to implement such a change would require a great deal more chutzpah from the electorate than most countries are presently demonstrating; however, as the economies of these countries worsen, as the people become more fearful and frustrated, the voters may become more committed to change for the better, and a more equitable system just might become a reality.

Here's hoping.

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