Bitterness and dangerous entitlement

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Bitterness and dangerous entitlement

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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Rain beats the leopard skin, but it does not wash out the spots.— Akan proverb, Ghana

Last Sunday, The Gleaner release what it said was a “leaked voice note by former Opposition Senator K D Knight”. Some blistering claims were launched against the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) regarding its historic landslide defeat of the People's National Party (PNP). The content of the voice note allegedly by Knight seemed to be rooted in bitterness and entrenched political entitlement. Not even a single shred of evidence was proffered for the wild pronouncements, including a declaration that the general election was bought. Knight's long and bumpy tour of duty in politics may well be at its nadir.

It's been one week since the voice note was “leaked” to the public and to the best of my knowledge the author has not made a report to the police. In the absence of a report by him to the proper authorities it is reasonable to assume that he was merely coughing up political phlegm which many often expel after they have been pummelled, battered, and bruised in battle.

Some in the PNP might not have seen this headline: 'Election was free, fair – CAFFE' ( Jamaica Observer, September 7, 2020) The news item said, inter alia: “Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) says it is satisfied that last week's general election was 'conducted fairly and in the main free from fear'. The group, which served as election day observers, said there were reports of disturbances, but it doesn't believe they impacted the election.”

Since the shellacking of the PNP by the JLP in our 18th parliamentary election, numerous high-ranking members have appeared in the public domain with formulaic explanations for the political trouncing of 89 Old Hope Road. Phillip Paulwell, the co-director of the PNP's ill-fated election campaign, is a notable exception. Paulwell graciously accepted defeat on the behalf of PNP President Dr Peter Phillips, who, as we say in local parlance, “tek bush” (absented himself at a critical moment).

Headline: 'Paulwell blames party disunity for crushing PNP defeat'. Paulwell said, among other things: “The people believed that the Government has performed. The people believed that the Government is deserving of another term. The Jamaica Labour Party out-strategised us and, again in that regard, I have to commend them for that.” ( Loop Jamaica, September 4, 2020)

Many others who constitute the public face of the PNP have opted to continue to bury their heads in the proverbial sand. I am not surprised, therefore, by the outlandish content of the voice note reputedly by Knight.

The pillars of entitlement that are eating away at the PNP's very core will have to be conquered and dismantled if they hope to regain their political mojo. It is a fact that some politicians still foolishly believe that voters in general, and specifically in certain constituencies, are mere pawns. They are wrong!

Recall this egregious example of political entitlement on steroids.

TV reporter: If the PNP should lose that seat.

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: But if the PNP should lose that seat.

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if, there is no if, there is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: So, you are saying, regardless of what the JLP does...

Dr Peter Phillips: We are going to win the seat.

Politicians who foolishly still believe they own the will of the voter would do well to surrender hubris. In the run-up to the by-election in Portland Eastern on April 4, 2019 I said, among other things, in my The Agenda column: “Some in the PNP evidently believe the Tainos (members of an Arawak-speaking people formerly inhabiting the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas) bequeathed Jamaica to them for 1,000 years.” ( Sunday Observer, March 10, 2019)

I think the voice note purportedly of Knight was enmeshed in political entitlement and baked in outrage against the voters who soundly rejected, for a second-straight time, the wooings of the PNP. How dare you? That seems to have been the thesis of the piece of communication.

News flash! The Jamaican voter has evolved. The PNP needs to evolve along with the voters or remain politically stunted.

Loud ironies and excuses

Vote-buying is a scourge on our politics. I said so in this space many years ago. I do not resile from that position. Under the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) vote-buying is a crime. Bribery and variant forms of it have been part of our electoral landscape in Jamaica for decades. It is like an advanced internal haemorrhoid on our politics. Long ago I said here that the buying and selling of votes are betrayals almost tantamount to treason. I still hold that view.

The PNP cannot suddenly and conveniently divorce itself from its own public admissions to ample involvement and experience in vote-buying —as is being attempted in recent days. It will not work! Former general secretary of the PNP Paul Burke told Nationwide News Network that the PNP might have got 500 fewer votes in the Westmoreland Central by-election in 2015 if some supporters of the PNP had not got some votes. When asked if the PNP bought votes, Burke said: “I am not going to deny that there are members of the PNP who made or fulfilled promises...Some of our supporters felt that if they did not do what they had to we would have reduced our majority or lose.” When asked how many votes for the PNP he thought might have been bought, Burke said: “I don't think it could have been more than 500 votes.”

Recall also this frightening spectre: “Forty-eight hours before PNP delegates elect [their] next president, communications director for OnePNP, Lisa Hanna, fired the first salvo yesterday as she responded to a question at a media briefing.

“Hanna alleged that she had evidence that the Rise United team [had been] paying out money to convince delegates to vote for [Peter] Bunting.

“ 'I can say, with certainty and clarity, and evidence, that even in my constituency yesterday [Tuesday] morning at 8:00 am, a leader of the Rise [United] team was there offering and giving and issuing envelopes containing $10,000. And every time he went to a delegate and left the envelope I was called,' charged Hanna, who is the Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern.” ( Jamaica Observer, September 5, 2019)

Peter Tosh, international reggae legend, sings; “Well, if you live in a glass house, don't throw stones.”

Recall, chairman of the PNP Fitz Jackson said on radio that intimidation and vote-buying were big factors which impacted the outcome in the by-election in St Mary South Eastern. In the run-up to and after the famed by-election in Portland Eastern PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson made allegations on Nationwide Radio that de-bushing work was given out by the JLP in a bid to buy votes. Excuses for political failures have been recurring decimals at 89 Old Hope Road.

The fulminations of vote-buying purportedly by veteran politician K D Knight are perfectly in sync with a terrible political blind spot in the PNP. The PNP would do well to search its soul, set in motion the required internal transformation, including leadership changes and mea culpas, for its political sins.

Dangerous disturbances

Paul Burke, the former general secretary for the PNP, made some very unfortunate comments on Nationwide News Radio last Tuesday. Burke needs to understand that the labelling of journalists of a particular media house is not going to lessen the reality of the wipe-out that the PNP suffered in the general election. Resurrection of political ghosts from the 70s will not benefit the PNP in today's politics.

The press was shamelessly attacked by the Manley regime in the 70s. This Gleaner story, entitled 'PNP raps RJR, Gleaner', indicates how close we came to the brink of losing a most precious treasure. The story said, inter alia: “Senator Arnold Bertram, parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, said: 'The mass media were misleading the people.' The media, particularly The Gleaner were 'misrepresenting the PNP and its leader as people who were talking off the tops of their brains'.

“Senator Dudley Thompson said the PNP believed in freedom of the press, but newspapers should be responsible. Journalists were using 'snide phrases' to point arrows at the party.

“He attacked a 'cartoonist with a foreign name', who was drawing some damaging cartoons. This person, he said, 'would soon move on and join his ancestors'.” ( The Gleaner, July 28, 1975)

The late Ken Jones, journalist extraordinaire, chronicled in this newspaper and in the Old Lady of North Street, how journalists like Wilmot “Motty” Perkins, Hector Wynter, David DaCosta, and John Hearne, after his political Damascus Road experience, were “witch-hunted in the 70s”. The were labelled by some high-ranking PNP members as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Recall also the time that Prime Minister Michael Manley adjourned a Cabinet meeting and, along with Tony Spaulding, P J Patterson, and others, led a mob on The Gleaner because they did not like what the paper had been publishing. The theme of that threat was, 'Next Time, Next Time!' This was interpreted to mean that if they ever thought it necessary to revisit The Gleaner it might be more than shouted words. The same prime minister publicly referred to the newspaper as the Call Girl of North Street, and he described the editors, writers and publishers as pimps of imperialism. ( The Gleaner, November 5, 2006)

The JLP is not blameless, either. Recall the banning of Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney from re-entering Jamaica in the 1960s because of his political views.

There was a march on this newspaper some years ago by JLP supporters because they did not like cartoons of Clovis and articles by veteran journalist Mark Wignall that were critical of Edward Seaga and the JLP.

Twice in 2016 PNP supporters verbally and physically attacked Nationwide News Network's ace newsman Abka Fitz-Henley. The Jamaica Observer reported shortly after the February 25, 2016 General Election that Fitz-Henley had been assigned an armed private security guard during the election period after threats had been made against his life. ( Jamaica Observer, February 28, 2016)

We must never, ever return to those ghastly paths.

Protect press freedom

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, published by press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, ranks Jamaica (#6) ahead of countries such as Belgium (#12), Luxembourg (#17), Germany (#11), Canada (#16), and the United States (#45). We must nourish and cherish this great achievement.

Those who attempt to set back the clock must be repudiated in the strongest democratic fashion. There are some among us who desire to see a characteristic sameness in the views which emanate from our media. The ubiquity of information technologies render that objective unachievable.

Those who casually dismiss attacks upon our media need to understand the work of conscientious citizens who, over many decades against seemingly insurmountable odds, made great sacrifices to safeguard freedom of speech.

The media did not cause the PNP to lose the 2020 General Election. The PNP caused the PNP to lose.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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