Political hypocrisy in Jamaica


Thursday, August 24, 2017

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Opposition Leader Peter Phillips has apologised for his remark that could have been construed as being insensitive to Derrick Smith. The remark was indeed unfortunate. But who apologised for remarks made by prominent politicians when Michael Manley was sick? Such remarks are inappropriate, no matter who makes them.

I quote Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

There are some things about politicians that we cannot change, such as a tendency towards hypocrisy. What is even more hypocritical is that most of these political rivals are friends, yet their naive political followers defend them while those same politicians enjoy themselves together at private social events.

However, what I can do is to give a few examples of political hypocrisy. We read in Matthew 10:16 where Jesus Christ warned his disciples to be “as cunning as the serpents, though harmless as the doves”. Jesus gave a warning, but never removed the 'wolves' just as one can only warn others about hypocrisy.

In the 1944 election campaign, Alexander Bustamante and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) ran a smear campaign against the socialist People's National Party (PNP), calling it a communist party. And the JLP did so until the 1980s. Yet when the PNP nearly won the 1949 election (the PNP received fewer seats but more votes), the JLP reorganised itself in 1951 stating that it supports social legislation “but rejects socialism as a doctrine”.

The JLP criticised the Norman Manley regime for the building being constructed to house the Ministry of Education, for developing the land in Negril for tourism, and for building a national stadium. They called all of them a waste of money. But they spoke well and recognised their usefulness when they gained power. Indeed, the JLP saw to the building of the National Arena.

The PNP criticised the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and mockingly changed its initials around from NIS to SIN. This is one of the very few things established in Jamaica that does not have a known link to Norman Manley. Yet the PNP has acknowledged its usefulness after it was implemented and when the party took power.

On January 17, 1968, David Clement Tavares, the minister of housing and JLP Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew South Western, died after an illness. The by-election was held on February 21, 1968 — a month and four days after the death of Tavares.

The PNP senators asked for a delay of the by-election because some 11,000 constituents were not on the list, which in any event was the PNP's complaint about the 1967 General Election when some 75,000 voters islandwide were disfranchised. The Government senators asked, “Does the Opposition want the people of St Andrew South Western to go unrepresented any longer?”

The 1967 General Election, which the JLP won, was loudly protested as an unfair election. Yet in the 1970s the JLP, under Edward Seaga, protested that the elections were unfair, which led to fundamental electoral reforms. But by 1983 the same Edward Seaga called the 1983 General Election on a three-year-old voters' list, which the PNP boycotted.

The JLP was also quick to call the by-election in St Ann South Eastern when the PNP's Dr Ivan Lloyd resigned from Parliament and his son, Garland, was chosen to run for the JLP. The by-election was on the day before the March 1969 Local Government Elections. This drew a protest because of the voters' ink which is used to stain the finger for a week.

The JLP withdrew its local government election candidates, giving the seats unopposed to the PNP; luckily there were no other candidates who might not have withdrawn. The PNP's Seymour Mullings won the by-election. Yet when the PNP came to power they never changed the law that allows elections a day apart.

But when Norman Manley resigned from Parliament in February 1969 the Government took six months to call the by-election. The people of St Andrew East Central had to wait until the JLP chose a candidate. However, the PNP's Dr Kenneth McNeill won the seat in the by-election held coincidentally on the same day Norman Manley died, September 2, 1969.

Florizel Glasspole (later governor general) moved a resolution in Parliament that by-elections should not be held later than a certified period after the vacancy had occurred. The JLP Government's majority defeated the resolution. But the PNP did nothing to change the law when they returned to power, perhaps because they thought that the tactic might be useful to them one day.

That day did not occur until 2001 when the PNP's Francis Tulloch resigned as an MP in the parish of St James. The by-election was never called by then Prime Minister P J Patterson, and the people of that constituency went unrepresented for over a year until the general election of October 2002.

The failure to call the by-election in St James came after the JLP' s Shahine Robinson won the March 8, 2001 by-election in St Ann North Eastern, snatching it from the PNP.

If Prime Minister Andrew Holness delays or never announces the three by-elections that are now due, he could certainly claim precedent on both sides.

Leader talks, no dog barks?

A prominent member of the JLP asked me recently what is happening in the PNP that Portia Simpson Miller could indicate a preference and yet there was still a contest. It is standard practice that when a leader of any party (or former party leader) indicates a preference, the contenders withdraw from the race.

This is different from internal elections for officers, where the political parties have constitutions and can be challenged in court. Nevertheless, in 1960, David Clement Tavares was elected second deputy leader of the JLP. Bustamante disliked the choice and declared the election null and void and re-convened the conference at a later date. But who in the JLP could ever dare to question Bustamante, who ruled the JLP like a dictator?




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