The powerful miasma of vote-buying

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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The heart can kill its owner, but it will not survive. — Nuer/Dinka proverb, South Sudan

 

A pungent smell has been left in the wake of the political duel between Phillips and Bunting. Some for reasons best known to them will doubtless cover their noses and pretend that it does not exist. This is wrong!

The public relations gloss of political glad-handing is quickly vanishing. Choreographed optics are evanescing, leaving a political vacuum that is rapidly being replaced by more thick political smog from 89 Old Hope Road.

The birds, those ubiquitous Black-Bellied Plovers, Banananquits, and John Chewits, warble that weeks of werewolf plots, threats, nearly unrelentingly spewing of political bile, as well as executing political shakedowns and rancid denials, which largely charactered the People's National Party's (PNP) presidential race did not end last Saturday with the announcement that Dr Peter Phillips had retained by a razor-thin margin his prized place on the presidential perch.

One of my readers who admitted from the get-go that she supported the candidacy of Peter Bunting sent me an interesting e-mail last Sunday, it said among other things: “Well, the PNP is again back to regularly scheduled programming.”

The caustic aftermath of the contest seems like validation.

Many people in high places are quite prepared to stoop to abominably low levels. I believe that is the most obvious lesson from the recently concluded, bruising PNP presidential race. How else, should folks understand specific accusations of vote-buying that were levelled by the 'OnePNP' outfit and 'Rise United' crew against each other?

Vote-buying is a scourge on our politics. I said so in this space 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. Our democracy is being threatened by the suffocating tentacles of this reprehensible act. Those who struggled and even gave their lives to secure universal adult suffrage in 1944 must be turning in their graves.

These very frightening excerpts should cause all well-thinking Jamaicans to quiver in their skins. If you don't, “yuh nuh know what a clock a strike” (the inherent danger), as some rural folks submit.

“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 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)

The Rise United camp shot back hours after with counter accusations of vote-buying by OnePNP factions. Remember, this was a contest among Comrades. What are we to expect in a general election?

Then there is a related issue of 'The Pied Piper'; not of Hamelin this time, but of those who control the almighty purse strings. There are some among us who are disciples of a view of politics espoused by German-American socialist editor Oscar Ameringer that says, “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.”

Its practical application was paraded before our very eyes, especially during the many weeks of the clash between Phillips and his challenger, the Member of Parliament from Manchester Central Peter Bunting.

We, therefore, need to ask certain pertinent questions. For example, what were the financiers promised in return for the millions of dollars that were poured into the PNP's presidential race? How will they extract their pound of flesh, and from which parts of our political, social, and economic anatomy?

I have not heard where Phillips has, to date, supported calls for a public inquiry into the allegations of rampant vote-buying and -selling which both camps allege took place during the presidential battle. I believe any internal exercise into these allegations is tantamount to a cover-up.

Remember how Phillips rained punches on the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the run-up to the Portland Eastern by-election regarding concerns of vote-buying? Recall Dr Peter Phillips accused the Andrew Holness-led Administration of being involved in the vulgar use of State resources to buy votes via spending on projects in the constituency. Holness, to his credit, took decisive action to assuage the PNP's fears.

An article in this newspaper said, among other things: “The PNP has accused the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government of engaging in what it called a 'carnival of spending (of) public resources to influence the upcoming by-election' in Portland Eastern.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 16, 2019)

Recall Prime Minister Andrew Holness discontinued payments from the Constituency Development (CDF) in the wake of the accusation from the Opposition. Following the nomination of Ann-Marie Vaz, the JLP's candidate in Portland Eastern by-election, Holness said, among other things, outside the Port Antonio Courthouse:

“ 'I've read the letters from the leader of the Opposition, and I've read the letter from the political ombudsman. I have gone through and asked all the agencies whether or not they have made allocations or made payments. So far what I've been told is that no allocations have been made other than what was made previously... before the campaign, and that whatever was in train was stopped,' said Holness.

“ 'I spoke to the head of the CDF yesterday (Thursday) [and] she explained to me that she sent out a letter stopping all payments. And I suspect that all other agencies will be doing that,' he added.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 16, 2019)

Vote-buying and -selling are diseases. Jamaica needs to rigorously enforce her laws against vote-buying and -selling to ensure that this virus does not mutate here. The severely debilitating impact of these sicknesses on other democracies is extremely costly. There are numerous case studies.

We cannot afford to play political Russian roulette with our young democracy. It is highly unacceptable that so many only find reasons to condemn the putrid practice when their party's political beacon is threatened. Whether the JLP does it or the PNP does it, vote-buying and -selling are criminal, period!

During the 2015 Westmoreland Central by-election that was a sure win for the PNP, media reports said voters made furtive withdrawals from a mobile ATM not having made prior deposits. It was reported that a certain black, high-end sport utility vehicle drove around the constituency and individuals whose political genetics are not secret, stealthily distributed wads of cash.

Some rough beast slouches towards Jamaica to be born. Here I take slight liberties with W B Yeats' The Second Coming.

 

Same ailment, different treatment

One of my readers in New York City, USA, drew my attention to this startling headline, 'Ombudsman yet to decide on PNP probe — Parchment Brown not sure if she'll investigate allegations of vote-buying in presidential race'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 10, 2019)

The story said among other things:

“Allegations of vote-buying and voter intimidation by 'washed-up' dons in the just-concluded People's National Party (PNP) presidential election could escape the probing lenses of Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown.

“Yesterday, Parchment Brown told the Jamaica Observer that, while she is very concerned about the allegations, she is yet to decide if she will be investigating them.

“ 'I have not made a decision about whether I will act, or whether I will make contact with the PNP on these matters, but I do believe that there is a broader discussion that the political parties, and citizens in general, need to be more aware of the code [Political Code of Conduct] and really hold everybody accountable all the time to the standards that the parties agreed to,' said Parchment Brown.”

Check and compare this! 'Political ombudsman still probing Portland Eastern vote-buying allegations'. ( Jamaica Observer, April 21, 2019

The news item said inter alia:

“Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown is not yet ready to clear the political parties of vote-buying in the April 4 parliamentary by-election in Portland Eastern.

“Most of the allegations of vote-buying have come from the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) which has accused the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of inducing people with gifts and money to vote for its victorious candidate Ann-Marie Vaz.

“But the JLP has charged that the PNP is just a sore loser, as its candidate Damion Crawford failed to excite the people of Portland Eastern and there was no need to pay people to vote for Vaz, who dubbed herself Action Ann.

“Late last week Parchment Brown told the Jamaica Observer that her office is concerned when elections are conducted in a way that breaches the law or the Political Code of Conduct and it is taking the allegations very seriously.

“ 'This is one of the reasons I was concerned about the many reports and the few complaints regarding vote-buying in the east Portland by-election,' said Parchment Brown.

“I have received some information, some information I have shared with other authorities to ask them to do the special investigation and my office, using the team of liaison officers, is doing a broad-based review of many activities in that constituency.

“ 'Some of these activities touch on vote-buying, whether by virtue of giving work in a particular situation where work was not properly authorised, or by assisting people with funds in exchange for their vote,' added Parchment Brown.”

There is a very foolish tendency in this country to treat certain offices and individuals with religious-like deference. The actions of these individuals are seldom interrogated, even though they are paid from public coffers. We need to fully divorce ourselves from such nonsense.

I believe the actions of the Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown vis-à-vis the allegations of vote-buying and -selling in the Portland Eastern, when compared to those related the PNP's presidential election are woefully inconsistent and give rise to a lot of questions about the kind of barometer that is used by her office to launch or not to launch an investigation.

As taxpayers and citizens of this country, I believe we have not only a responsibility, but a duty to question the activities of her office.

What accounts for the conspicuous urgency to investigate allegations of vote-buying and -selling in Portland Eastern as compared to the molasses on a snail's back moving up a hill approach to investigating the allegations made by Lisa Hanna, for example.

We need to know!

 

Washed-up dons

Our country also urgently needs an explanation for this: “The [Rise United] campaign is also saddened by OnePNP resurrecting washed-up, so called dons who are feebly attempting to influence delegates. We remind all those who may have forgotten, that the PNP has long turned its face against this type of politics.”

We need to urgently amputate this gangrenous limb from our politics. Who are these grubby characters? What precise duties did these dons perform in the clash between Phillips and Bunting.

There is a thunderous silence from most civil society groups on this renewed threat to our democracy. Why?

The country's sleazy association with dons is well documented. Check this! Edward Seaga attended Lester Lloyd “Jim Brown” Coke's funeral and “Manley... at a public rally late in 1974 commended the enforcers by their popular names: “I thank the Central Kingston Executive. I thank my pasieros of the garrison — 'Skully', 'Val', 'Boots', 'Vinnie', 'Burry', 'Bernard', 'Spar', as a glory.” [Gray pages 150-151]. ( The Gleaner, June 13, 2010) These were men who carried out cruel and deadly acts of political cleansing, mostly in central Kingston, between 1967 and 1972.

It is against this background that political violence exploded in the run-up to October 30, 1980. We must not forget.

We cannot deny that both political parties have had deep-rooted associations with criminal dons, notable among them “Burry Boy”, “Fedamop”, “Buckie Marshall”, “Claudius Massop”, and “Jim Brown”.

To our national credit, we have made seismic improvements in the management of our electoral affairs over many years of struggle and commitment spearheaded by former prime ministers Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. Much of their work with the teams around them took place in the run-up to the 1980 General Election, our bloodiest parliamentary election, and immediately following. By then Manley and Seaga had come to their senses.

We are especially indebted to outstanding Jamaicans like the late Professor Gladstone E Mills, former professor of government at The University of the West Indies. He was the first chairman of the the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC). He died in September 2004. Kudos to former chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) Professor Errol Miller, a great Jamaican; plus many other great Jamaicans who made a lot of personal and other sacrifices to ensure we have a respected and respectable electoral system today.

Our current electoral system is the result of great maturity and the implementation of diligent reforms designed to protect our democracy. Our present electoral system is seen as a democratic beacon around the world. We must nourish and cherish this important national accomplishment.

Those who are attempting to bring us back to the brink of the political abyss through the resurrection of political fiends must be democratically resisted.

A word to the wise should be sufficient, as rural folks maintain.

 

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


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