Columns

Suckers of a decadent political order

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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T he constant lament that we hear in this country is that politicians are corrupt, they do not mean the country any good, and that they are just in the business of enriching themselves. We lament a decadent political order which was aptly described by one of the most-elected prime ministers of the country as the fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by warring political tribes. Essential to this war and the psychology of the acquisition of political power is violence.

The characteristics of this tribal political conflict have hardly changed over the years, except for the worst. Meaningful campaign finance reform has not occurred, and so those who have great wealth and influence in the society can influence which party sits in Jamaica House and so exercise power over the people.

What should greatly disturb and amaze us is the lethargy and nonchalance with which so many people in this country approach its politics. Those who are turned off by its decadence have largely retreated to their verandahs, rum bars, social media — and, yes, columns like these — to gripe and moan about what our politics have become. We squirm, whine and pontificate about the evils of our politicians, and yet we sit in quiescence and allow the evil to persist.

The rank of the independents has swollen to between 30 to 40 per cent of the voting public. Statistics bear out that the “gangs” of Gordon House have about 60 per cent of the vote evenly spread between them. None of the major political parties can win unless by small margins, which means that they have to persuade their calcified, 'die-hard' supporters to come out and vote for them. So, both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) have to garner independent votes to win convincingly, or to merely scrape through. This is where the power of the independents plays a large role as kingmaker. It is this power that is largely being ignored by the Twitterati and those who have become fed up with the political status quo. It is the harnessing of this power that can bring a seismic change in the political system.

Yet, this potent force has allowed itself to be played as suckers of a decadent, toxic political order, and they do not seem to care too much about it. By their quiescence and lack of political engagement for change they have allowed this state of affairs to persist where just about 30 to 35 per cent of either political tribe can determine who shall rule them for the next four to five years.

Meanwhile, the political tribe that wins expects to be fed for their support. Much of the corruption that occurs in government projects is a result of the need for supporters to be fed from the troughs of government. They will kill, and have killed, for this right. Every contest for leadership of the two major political parties is characterised by venom, name-calling, alleged vote-buying, trickery, and an assortment of negative behaviour which are unworthy of a country that calls itself proud.

The just-concluded contest for leadership of the PNP was no different from that of the JLP which preceded it some years ago. There was the same level of trickery, deceit, vituperation, and apparent vote-buying. If such a contest should be engaged now by the JLP, do not expect to see anything markedly different from what obtained in the recent PNP race. Why? Because they are all wallowing in the same toxic brew of political one-upmanship and treachery which is the ethos of our political system.

The suckers of this system sit back and allow 3,000 to 5,000 delegates of a political party to decide who should rule their 'fate' for the next four to five years. And when these people get power they live as potentates. When the few among them become ministers, they expect the adulation of the masses. Like Trump in America, they do not expect to be criticised when they do anything wrong. We should make no mistake that ministers of government in Jamaica live well — free transportation, free housing, good salaries (when compared to the average salary of an ordinary Jamaican), generous travels abroad at taxpayers' expense, and a host of other perquisites connected to the appurtenances of power.

Out of a population of almost three million people we do not have a system that allows anyone other than a member of a leading political party to become prime minister, a minister of government, or a Member of Parliament. We are told that if you want to effect change you must become a member of one of the political parties, help to reform it, and fight for the change you want. Better yet, you can go ahead and form your own party. This is plain poppycock when you get down to where the rubber meets the road.

To begin with, Jamaica is a graveyard for third parties. I cannot foresee a third political party having the traction of the now-defunct National Democratic Movement (NDM), and yet this is the party that offered the greatest promise of a viable third party in the history of Jamaica.

Most Jamaicans don't have the appetite for the tribal politics practised by the professional politicians in each tribe. The latter have honed their skills. If you should join any of them don't expect that your voice is going to be heard that readily, especially if it is one that is contrary to the political culture that has prevailed in that party. You will have to join the line and wait your turn; and that can be a long wait. By the time you pass the dinosaurs and hopefully become leader you would have become so absorbed in the ethos of it that you would have forgotten your beady-eyed optimism and the lofty goals which caused you to join in the first place.

So, where do we stand? What of the growing number of Jamaicans who have grown disheartened with the political process to do? Well, we can accept the status as given or as something which we cannot change. We can continue to sit on the fence or whine on our social media platforms. Or we can get engaged and organise to effect the change that we desire. The latter option seems to me to be the best one. We all have a sense of what can be achieved when the enormous power of social media is harnessed and put to work for a good cause.

But that cause has to have an agenda, a core set of principles that people can buy into. It must be motivated by a love for country and the urgent need to see change that can benefit the greater Jamaica. I would suggest that an essential aspect of this agenda must be constitutional reform with a view of a new paradigm of governance. I know that in the thinking of many, economics, getting the roads fixed, and bread-and-butter issues are more important or sexier than constitutional reform. Yet, this is what is urgently needed to arrest corruption and make the politicians who take decisions that affect our bread and butter accountable. We must get organised around a set of core principles and force our demands on the exiting parties. Only a foolish political party would turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the demands of a feisty independent group that demands change, especially when such a group, by a shift of a mere 10 per cent, can determine whether that party gains power or not.

We must develop an appetite for change and move towards this change. Tech-savvy young people must lend their talent to creating this social media platform in the first instance. Like-minded older and wiser people can help to guide the process. A truly independent movement can be created out of this engagement. It would not be a political movement, but an organic one committed to the ideal of one Jamaica and motivated by a patriotic commitment to serve one's country, and not a political party.

If you have any ideas of how this movement could be organised, and what agenda items it should address, I would like to hear from you. It is time to end the backward practice of a few delegates of a political party determining a prime minister, calling elections whenever they please, buying votes to enter Gordon House, and doling out public money without any real accountability. It is time for term limits for those who sit in the people's parliament who, as professional politicians, believe they have a life tenure in the building. It is time for ministers of government to be drawn from anywhere in Jamaica, not only from a small coterie of individuals elected from a political party with only 35 per cent of the vote. This and other assorted madness must stop. Walk good.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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