Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Romancing the vote

HERE WE GO AGAIN... PM Golding (right) has words with NE St Catherine ex-MP Gregory Mair after announcing the date for the by-election.

Jamaica Observer Column | Monday, May 25, 2009


We should just get used to it and make the best of it: politics is the biggest business in Jamaica. On the positive side, Jamaica is a rock-solid democracy with interesting political personalities that make campaigning the most watched reality show in town.

Unfortunately for them, even our best politicians are projected as one-dimensional talking heads, easy fodder for our headlines. Nothing makes a bigger story than a politician in trouble - unless it is a story about fictitious trouble. But let me say no more as that is a yet unfinished drama.

Local Government Minister Bobby Montague held a press briefing last Thursday about a $10 million trip by a contingent of 75 parish councilors and other officials to a conference in the Bahamas.  In fairness, we should point out that a third of the group paid their own way, though we can hardly wait to see how all the wonderful information they gleaned from this conference will be manifested in a squeaky clean environment.

Later, there was the announcement of by-elections for North East St Catherine, a seat already made famous by the Dabdoub (then JLP) vs Mitchell case after the 1997 general elections, eventually won by Dabdoub in 2001.  Gregory Mair will once again contesting the election for the JLP, while it is expected that the PNP’s candidate will be NWU island supervisor Granville Valentine.

PM Golding quickly responded to the Court’s ruling by announcing an early date, June 16 for the by-election, with Nomination Day being this Friday.  We wait to hear decisions regarding challenges to the status of JLP Parliamentarians Michael Stern (NW Clarendon) and Shahine Robinson (NE St. Ann). 

Voters in these three constituencies must be having visions of wonderful feasts and blandishments when their candidates come a-courting.  Elections put Valentine’s Day in the shade.

I heard one critic declaring that we should have less, not more constituencies to arrive at an odd-number.  Clearly, he wants to deprive some electors of the romancing of their votes. Jamaicans are said to be 'boasy'. But hey, after all the wooing by parties, unions, telecoms companies and furniture stores, you can’t blame us for feeling very, very special!

Putting joke aside, we should know that Marcus Mosiah had a bit of ‘boasy’ in him, but distilled this into confident leadership that would inspire millions in the Diaspora.  His philosophy did not encourage the ‘sufferer’ mentality but rather challenged us not to become ‘a bum or hobo race.’  He disdained ignorance and urged his followers to develop a love for reading.  “If you cannot buy books,” said Garvey, “… go to your libraries and read or borrow them …Use every spare minute you have in reading.”

We want to hear our politicians change their platform rhetoric into this kind of practical, useful advice.  Then we would like them to step from the platform into their constituencies and work with their people, motivating them with a wholesome and moving philosophy. 

But hold on a minute -- isn’t that something every ordinary citizen should do?  We who are too ‘precious’ to get caught up in the hurly-burly of Jamaican politics could indeed mentor a child, or take a hot lunch for an indigent elder, or dig a little deeper to help a community project. 

The word politics is defined in Webster’s dictionary as, “The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.”  

What a task! No matter the excellence of the leader, this cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of willing citizens. Those of us who turn up our noses at politicians, from whichever side of the House they may come, and do not cooperate, have no right to criticise.

As we sit in this warm though sometimes overheated bubble called Jamaica, do we know that over the past month in Sri Lanka, hundreds were killed as a 25-year civil war came to a bloody end?  Over 250,000 of its citizens are now in refugee camps, many of them starving as their numbers have surpassed the UNHCR’s projections.  As the Pakistan army fights to retake the Swat Valley in their Northwestern region from the Taliban, over 800,000 residents have had to flee their homes.  Next door in Haiti, four people have already died from the same weather system that has been inundating Jamaica.  Haiti has lost 85% of its vegetation while thanks to our environmentalists, we have been able to preserve most if not all, of our green hills.

Even in the USA, the rate of unemployment has risen fast, with the basic free healthcare we have in Jamaica, still beyond the reach of many in that wealthy country.  After the Bill to protect credit card holders was passed in the US Congress earlier this week, we learned that the gun lobby had snuck in a clause allowing persons to carry arms into public parks; the lawmakers felt powerless to stop it as the rest of the Bill was too important to ordinary Americans.   This same strident gun lobby has affected the proliferation of guns in our region.

When we look at Jamaica in this context, we can understand why, even as we are tearing down our country, many are tearing up at our history and culture.  We can do our part by helping our politicians to fight a clean fight – Jamaica is worth it.

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