Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Political garrisons and the war against democracy

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 10:00 AMGary Spaulding, Contributor

The political culture of garrison constituencies has, for many years, been socialised to hijack and derail genuine democratic processes in the political system.

The protagonists of the garrison culture have always been a nightmare for political opponents in rival parties, but things and times are changing as the political dragon has now redirected its misguided vehemence to their own political parties.

Neither the People's National Party (PNP) nor the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been spared in the war being waged against the principles of democracy by their own.

The unprecedented derailment of the processes in the PNP in recent times has emanated primarily from South East St Ann, North East St Ann and Northern Trelawny.

These constituencies are incontestable PNP stamping grounds on which election results are usually foregone conclusions.

The same applies to North East St Catherine as well as West Central St Catherine in respect of the JLP.

It's easy to brand West Kingston, South St Andrew and South West Andrew as name brands in the garrison framework, but there are many with similar character traits located in the rural areas.

The garrison culture that has been largely, if tacitly, embraced by both major political parties for many years.

Their monstrosities have now turned their attention inwards, turning the PNP and JLP on their heads as the abhorrence to real democracy that characterises the garrison culture has been evident in some internal selection process.

As it is in national polls, the message in the internal election 'it is our way or no way'. The death of a child has featured in the exchanges in the chaotic run-up to a selection exercise in South East St Ann.

The chopping down of high-priced trees, including cedar, in the farming communities of North East St Elizabeth is a telling story as eloquent as the argument of the death of 11-year-old Octavia 'Akeela' Smith.

Protests such as the one last week in Northern Trelawny are commonplace in the constituency as some Comrades demand their way or no way.

The 'sounding off' of Labourites in North East St Catherine prior to the run-off on Saturday for a JLP candidate to replace Gregory Mair is just as routine.

The diehards have served notice that they would not accept the verdict of the democratic process, although both candidates, Sharon Hay-Webster and Leslie Campbell accepted the results - 'my way or no way'.

Demonstrations, protests and protestation, as well as postponements of the democratic processes, were the order of the day in the JLP political zone of West Central St Catherine.

 

blame games

 

For many years, there has been this long, meaningless debate about which party controls the highest number of garrison constituencies.

Then there was the vain attempt to define the term garrison constituencies.

The discourses were accompanied by blame game, at the end of which garrison remained safely ensconced in the sociopolitical culture.

Garrison constituencies have, traditionally, been unrivalled assets to the fortunes of political parties in national elections when the competition is directed at the rival party.

These 'garrisons' are prone to hijack and derail the democratic processes of the electoral system in the name of partisan politics by removing the entitlements of real right to vote.

In garrison constituencies, reasoning is taboo and voting for a rival party anathema.

In such a culture, 'marginal' constituencies are viewed as nuisances in the broader scheme of political life.

But closer examination will reveal that it is the garrison constituencies, euphemistically branded 'strongholds', that have been causing untold problems in the parties.

My colleague Ian Boyne is on target in his thought-provoking column that challenges are good for democracy. They are indeed welcomed.

But hijacking the challenges is another thing.

Other constituencies have conducted challenges with strident exchanges but without the acrimony that attended the contest in unadulterated political strongholds.

Eastern Portland and South West St Elizabeth facilitated selection processes with some amount of rancour but without the near anarchy that attended South East St Ann and North East St Elizabeth.

A key element in the discords is the strategic selection of diehard supporters by constituency heads (MPs, caretakers, councillor, constituency chair and others in influential positions) to advance their agendas to derail the political process.

The response of Reverton Bailey, a political observer, to my suggestion that the bulk of delegates on both sides of the divide are ill-equipped and "licky licky" is instructive.

He said: "We need to ask, who are the foot soldiers and what is their motivation? The same people we describe on unfortunate terms as 'licky licky' are the poorest among us.

"Their allegiance is strongest, in part, because they see this allegiance as a lifeline out of destitution. These are the foot soldiers who do the dirty work for the platform brigade. They are the most exploited and least rewarded."

Bailey noted that during the democratic socialist years when the State was the benefactor, many of these people were able to experience some form of mobility out of destitution.

He suggested that a patterned expectation developed which in this new dispensation is, at best, a sentimental hope for those days when state patronage was a major factor in one's allegiance.

This, he said, is compounded by an economic policy that is the opposite of what existed then, but in circumstances where the life situation of these foot soldiers has deteriorated significantly.

"So how then can we blame and despise these same people who are still expected to do the dirty work without some reward," asks Bailey.

What is most noteworthy in the scheme of things is that the chickens have come home to roost.

- Gary Spaulding is a Senior Gleaner Writer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com