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Character assassination from political platforms does not lead to Jamaica House


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The recent attempt by senior members of the People's National Party (PNP) to sully the reputation of Alando Terrelonge, Member of Parliament for St Catherine East Central, was nothing short of despicable. The invectives against him, as they presented Dr Winston De la Haye as the standard-bearer for the constituency, was a clear statement of how the party is willing to continue digging itself into a hole of irrelevance.

The diatribe against the Member of Parliament left many of us concerned, if not shocked. We were not shocked because the matter was raised on a political platform — as we know that this kind of attack has become standard fare from these platforms, on both sides of the political aisle. What was concerning is the bile and venom that was spewed at Terrelonge by senior members of the party.

Even the benign, temperate and hospitable Opposition spokesman on finance, the lawyerly Mark Golding, joined in the fray. He has since apologised for his part in it, and while I can accept his apology as genuine, I cannot help but wonder what could have seized him to get caught up in that orgy of vituperation against another human being. Platform intoxication is one thing, but trying to destroy the character of another person quite another.

For this is really at the heart of what went down: A lack of appreciation for what harm can be done to another person by insensitive utterances that are clearly intended to cause reputational damage. And this is what was clearly intended by those who indulged the orgy. They knew what this diatribe meant in what is still Jamaica's strong cultural association with homophobia. They were intent on causing maximum harm to Terrelonge.

I can be sure that before the incident many of us did not care much about Terrelonge. What we observe in his profile as a public servant is that of an affable and hard-working politician. His dreadlocks notwithstanding, I do not know him to be a “fake” Rastaman, as Dr Dayton Campbell alleged. I do not know him to espouse the Rastafarian ideology or philosophy. Some people tend to equate dreadlocks with Rastafarianism, but the correlation is not necessarily correct. Young men who wear dreadlocks, and to whom I have spoken, merely see it as part of their hair grooming styles. This is not quite different from those who choose to go bald and who may genuinely believe in Rastafarianism.

What was obvious from the attack on Terrelonge was how easily speaker after speaker were willing to malign him without a modicum of sensitivity as to what they were doing to another human being and colleague in the Parliament. As far as they were concerned he could just have been a piece of roadkill not worthy of anyone's attention. As long as they succeeded in hurting him politically then the ends clearly justified whatever tactics could be deployed in achieving them. In this light, this attack was no different than the Jamaica Labour Party's assault on former Prime Minister P J Patterson by then Leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga. The attack was so hurtful and virulent that Patterson was forced to defend his heterosexual credentials on public radio.

One desperately hopes that what unfurled on that platform two Sundays ago is not a harbinger of what is to come as the silly season of political demagoguery heats up. Any attack on individuals should be viewed as an insult to the intelligence of all Jamaicans. We are being invited to vote for people not on the basis of their presentation of facts and substantive policies, but to view perceived character weaknesses as an avenue to political victory. Jamaicans must not allow themselves to be lured down this pathway. They must reject any politician who believes that character assassination is a pathway to the people's parliament.

What such attacks reveal is the bankruptcy of ideas by those who indulge them. Here the PNP would be well advised to be especially careful. Already, it is seen by enemies and friends as a party that has become a mere vote-getting machinery and as one that has abandoned the trenchant ideological underpinnings of its genesis. It would be difficult for Norman Manley, and even Michael, to find any real comfort in the ideological shell that the PNP is fast becoming. There are those in the party who have been brave enough to criticise elements of decay that they have seen, but there are still others who are prepared to be the proverbial ostriches and bury their heads to what some see as impending doom.

The party is now seen as one which can only reach into a bag of tricks and pull out a random anything that can entertain those who are gullible enough to buy into those tricks. There are no well-thought-out policy prescriptions that can capture the imagination of the people and convince them that they have any viability to be a credible Government-in-waiting. Instead, all they hear is a lot of noise from political platforms, venting outrage against the Government, and attacking personalities. It is not clear where the party is headed, or the direction in which it will take the country, if it should be given the reins of power. Frankly, they make the JLP look better every day, despite its own failings and inadequacies.


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