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ALL AH WE IS ONE – Politics of silence

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE – Politics of silence

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One of the ironies of the leadership of Freundel Stuart, is that whilst in his pre-Prime Ministerial life he forged a reputation as a man of words and sound erudition, since becoming Prime Minister he has adopted silence as his main political strategy. 
Into his fourth month, the main public demand is for the Prime Minister to assume greater visibility and to make more decisive interventions and pronouncements which can at least guide the public if not bring closure to the various burning issues.  
Remarking that since his swearing-in Stuart has not held a Press conference, Nation columnist Sanka Price, called for the return of the regular post-Cabinet briefings that had been a feature of David Thompson’s stewardship. 
Other than the mandatory Parliamentary appearances, the Prime Minister is seen and heard mostly in “soft battlefields” such as the recent Rotary Club gathering. Other ministers man the crisis fronts.
Given its centrality as the most dominant trait of Stuart’s leadership style and personality, it is necessary to analyse the efficacy of “silence” as a political strategy.
Silence is a supreme tool only when backed by effective and decisive action.
In such instances, there is no need for talk, since the actions undertaken not only show clearly what is being done, but are so effective that they stifle all criticism. In other words, silence is more easily accepted when right actions breed public contentment.
Given the daily litany of complaints over issues ranging from the price of food and gasoline to anxiety over CLICO, the evidence suggests that the actions being undertaken have not succeeded in silencing criticism. The longer the complaints persist, the more out-of-joint will become the Prime Minister’s silence.
Difficult as it may be to accept, silence is an inappropriate tool in a democracy. Modern leaders employ speech writers and image consultants, precisely because democratic politics has been reduced to winning verbal and image battles.
Unlike what obtains under authoritarian regimes, our platforms and radio and television waves remain critical pillars of political warfare, and leaders who refrain from speech provide space for their enemies both from within and without.   
In addition, given the long period of national silence and the extended political truce which marked the illness and passing of David Thompson, Stuart’s continuing silence has the quality of taking a patient public too much for granted. 
It is perhaps the failed expectation of a sharp burst of political energy post-Thompson, which explains the persistent rumours about Cabinet reshuffles and snap elections.
Whilst Stuart is correct in pouring cold water on these claims, he should not ignore the underlying hint for greater political action behind these rumours. 
Whilst his golden silence might have earned him the coveted Prime Ministerial prize, Stuart must not commit the un-dialectical error of transforming a tactic into a principle.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.