Editorial: The might of party delegates
In recent weeks, delegates of the major political parties have been flexing their muscles in the candidate-selection process with startling results for some current members of parliament (MP) who have been flatly rejected from running again.
Officially, the candidate-selection process involves a vote by party delegates at specially convened constituency conferences. So who are these delegates, and what informs their decision to accept or reject a candidate? Can they be relied on to make better choices than the party's top brass?
Since the choices they make will have a far-reaching impact on governance, and the country's progress, it is important that there is a good understanding of how this system works. Although the parties are not quick to explain how their selection processes work, there are indications that delegates include activists and politicians past and present who come to their favoured position as a reward for services rendered to their party.
Grumblings in the North East St Ann constituency, where Councillor Lydia Richards was seeking to challenge sitting MP Lisa Hanna, suggest that the vote was taken on a flawed list. Richards was scathingly critical of the selection process, saying the list included dead people. And from time to time there have been questions raised about the composition of other delegates' lists. Judging from these charges, one may very well conclude that the delegate system lacks transparency and could be hijacked by special-interest groups.
It is for these reasons that political commentators and other interested onlookers often question the fairness and wisdom of some of their choices. There are usually specific questions about the criteria on which the choice is made for a candidate as the power of selection moves from party elite to the people in the constituencies.
Recently, we had an indication from a group of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters about what informed their choice of candidate. The unhappy delegates, while demonstrating against the majority vote for a particular candidate, said he would only become a backbencher in Parliament and they really needed to have a Cabinet minister as their representative.
So proper representation is one of the qualities for which delegates search when they are thinking of a
political representative. But does it follow that a Cabinet minister will be a better representative for his constituents?
For if we believe the words of constituents when talking about PNP MPs Raymond Pryce and Damion Crawford, the impression is given that both these young men were working very hard for their constituents in a new, refreshing way. But both were rejected, perhaps, in favour of the old-style politics of patronage and handouts. Is this what democracy is really about?
For those who clamour for a change to the old-style 'fish head' politics, there is a task to convince the powerful delegates in both parties that the change should start with them in the candidate choices that they make.
If one doubts how powerful these foot soldiers of the parties are, we need not look beyond the PNP leadership elections which catapulted Portia Simpson Miller into the position of party president and prime minister. Jamaica's history would have been considerably different if the delegates had voted otherwise.