A prime minister in agony over his country
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

Far too many people believe the political myth that once you elect a political party to govern a country the voter can just relax and expect extraordinary things to happen. This is especially so if politicians make grandiose promises which the gullible imbibe and expect to become reality.

Seldom does the voter consider his or her role in ensuring that things really happen that can lead to transformative change and the betterment of their lives. They expect the political party, and especially its magical leader, to work wonders. The more magic wands they wave, the better. But soon reality sets in and the whole thing goes up in flames.

I believe it is this political myth that Prime Minister Andrew Holness was trying to dispel during his speech at the 79th Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) annual conference held last Sunday at the National Arena. It was one of the most sober, cogent, and realistic speeches to have come from a political platform in recent years. There are things that the prime minister could have bragged about, and although he mentioned certain achievements of his party, he was more cerebral in understanding where the country stands at the present time. Any attempt at bragging was tempered by the reality of the myriad problems that face the country — crime, economic disempowerment of too many, growing mental health challenges and its attendant social isolation, and a growing lethargy in national life, which may yet prove to be one of the greatest threats to the country achieving its march into a more glorious future.

In that speech I saw a prime minister who desperately loves his country, wants to do well by his people, yet sees the serious fault lines that may usher in the earthquake that may very well destroy the foundations of a democratic nation as we have known it. I saw a prime minister fully cognisant of the threats we face and yet not unmindful of the opportunities for greatness that ebbs in the soul of every well-thinking, hard-working Jamaican. His level of agony and emotional state was aptly summed up in an earlier speech in which he choked up at the thought of leaving Jamaica a better place than he found it.

So there is a great deal of work to be done, and I believe that reality has deeply sunk in that reliance on our political leaders alone will not be sufficient to get it done. Take the issue of crime. If there was ever a time when we needed the full cooperation of the citizenry in fighting, containing, and finally subduing the crime monster, it is now. I find the bleating criticisms of the Opposition members to be as hollow as a bamboo plant because they, too, do not have any real solution to the crime problem.

As I have said repeatedly in this space, I agree with the Opposition that states of emergency (SOEs) are not the way to go. They function in blunting crime in the very short term because of the overwhelming presence of the security forces in the areas where they are declared, but criminals migrate to safer harbours and return when it is conducive to restart their criminal behaviour. Now these events have become commonplace and no longer hold the gravity of what they were intended for. Their efficacy has been undermined by their obvious overuse. When we do really need them, how will calling one sound to the people's ears?

But the real truth is that no political party by itself can contain the crime monster. It has got to be a joined-up effort on the part of the political directorate, civil society, and the citizenry at large. The prime minister can come with all kinds of initiatives as he must, but he would be living in a world of delusion if he should ever conclude that he has all the answers necessary to contain it. And I know he does not believe this.

So, too, will the leader of his majesty's Opposition be delusional if he thinks he has the answers. Just put his party in power and all will be well? I wish it were that simple. Calling for resignations as I have said before here, is not helpful. Who in the Peoples National Party (PNP) could do a better job than Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang is now doing? We have to realise as a people in a sea-locked country of nearly three million people of which less than one per cent are the true violence producers that the solution is in our hands and we have to begin seriously pushing back against these criminals. Musical chairs may be good for an idle game but fighting crime is no game. Let's get real.

Necessity has a way of forging a decent respect for reality. This is what the prime minister is faced with and his task is not an easy one. As more of us realise how critical it is to take our responsibilities as citizens seriously, we may yet see a bend in the road which can make all our lives more prosperous. We must break free from the stranglehold of loyalty to political parties and engage a solid loyalty to our country and its prospects for greatness. We must see political charlatans for who they are and not be hoodwinked by their charms or their dexterity in mesmerising or bewitching the gullible with their gift of wizardry.

The prime minister bared his soul and gave us a window into his personal agony over a nation that can truly be great but is burdened by so many problems that have to be resolved. In doing so he has shown more courage than one would expect in a country given to ridicule and harsh criticism of leaders who show their vulnerabilities. One should not be too hard-pressed in saying a prayer for him.

Raulston Nembhard

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm; Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life, and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Raulston Nembhard

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