With a few exceptions (Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname), political parties in the Caribbean are not defined by their ethnic or geographic bases. In a region with high levels of poverty and marginalization, the major political parties and political and ideological debates have mainly formed along the left-right political spectrum, although since the end of the Cold War the ideological distance between the right and the left has grown smaller in the region. Today, the traditionally leftist political parties rarely propose elimination of the capitalist system, for example, as has been the case in the past in Guyana, Grenada and Jamaica. This has undoubtedly contributed to the stability that has been typical of the Caribbean political party systems in recent decades.

At the same time, the ideological bases of the left and center-left parties, based on principles of social justice, solidarity and internalization of conflicts, have led them to establish transnational alliances more commonly than the parties of the right. In fact, the most important transnational political party forum in the Latin America and Caribbean region is the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean (COPPPAL, for its Spanish acronym), an institution that includes left and center-left parties (liberal, social democrats, Christian democrats, socialists and communists) of 28 countries in the region, including the province of Quebec in Canada.

Unquestionably, traditional political parties face a crisis of representation and legitimacy in many contemporary societies and large portions of the population around the world are skeptical and lack confidence in political parties and the government in general. For that reason, many people who previously pursued their causes through political parties, and many of the struggles that were previously led by political parties, have been absorbed by civic organizations. The growing visibility and number of civic organizations and groups in the Caribbean, both in the form of non-governmental organizations and new social movements and interest groups (ecologists, feminists, indigenous groups, etc.) have raised scrutiny of whether the political parties accurately represent the people. Despite that, political parties continue to be the organizations with the most members, by a wide margin, and the role of civic organizations continues to be secondary and peripheral in comparison to that of the political parties. According to some authors, this is due to the fact that the political parties’ representation of the people comes from a mandate or direct vote by the citizens in democratic elections, and not from the civic organization’s presumed harmony with the wishes of the people it claims to represent.

In any case, the doubts about the political parties’ representation of the people have been felt more strongly in the continental Caribbean countries and in the Greater Antilles with Spanish heritage than in the smaller Caribbean islands. In the English-speaking Caribbean, for example, political institutions enjoy greater credibility. Evidence of this is the absence of constitutional reform proposals that seek to change the political and electoral systems. In the English-speaking Caribbean islands, there is no talk of changing the Westminster model, though some revisions have taken place in Barbados, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 09, 2012.

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