Daniel Thwaites | Citizen Shane
All eyes are turned towards the South East St Mary by-election. Because of the close parliamentary seat count delivered by the last general election, both parties desperately want a win there.
How interesting, therefore, that the contest should reopen some recent wounds about who counts, and who does not, as Jamaicans, or 'Ja-fake-ans', eligible to stand for parliamentary office.
Some serious identity questions have come up with the revelation that Shane Alexis is a Canadian citizen but, although eligible to become one, not a Jamaican. This while he certainly walks, talks, and otherwise behaves like a Jamaican. Nobody would have ever guessed.
So what, after all, is a fully paid-up Jamaican? And what exactly is the status of that growing multitude, the diaspora?
It has to be said that some of the discussions aimed at embarrassing Mr Alexis are hard to understand from people who otherwise want the diaspora to remain fully engaged with the country. Instead, the discussion would have informed the diaspora, to which I sometimes belong, that their status as full Jamaicans is somewhat provisional and one's standing can be degraded from full-blooded yardie.
I do think it important to remind people why so many of our countrymen and women have had to trek overseas.
Now I'm not a particularly religious man, but in Adi the Teacher's Epistle to Gaza, in the chapter known as Money Mi A Look, the matter is dealt with comprehensively:
"Money mi a look, Ah weh
yuh deh? ...
God know, Dawg, mi want a
Jamaica hard, US fi easier,
Englan' pound deh in de
What due to Caesar give to
Bank book haffi big like
Sunday Gleaner ...
Jamaica people: real survivor!"
That's it! And with so many individuals and families moving back and forth, simple nativism won't cut it.
Anyway, I'm going to say that Daryl Vaz has chutzpah when he chose to emerge as the voice calling out about "moral issues" of running a candidate who is a Canadian. What is 'chutzpah'? There's a pretty famous definition: It's when a guy murders his parents, but then when he is put on trial, he pleads with the judge for mercy on the basis that he's an orphan.
As you all will have been reminded recently, it was the West Portland contest between Daryl and Abe Dabdoub that, 10 years ago, made every politically aware citizen a legal expert on the constitutional citizenship requirements to enter Parliament.
Of course, I mean this as a compliment to Daryl, because in his line of duty, it is an enviable strength to be able to assiduously ignore the sequoia in your own eye and find the mote in your neighbour's. But also, he delivered his message with a memorable zinger: "What we have is a very sad situation where in less than 24 hours, Shane Alexis has gone from 'Sugar', to last night, 'Imported Sugar', (and) based on today's findings, he's now 'Canadian maple syrup'!" DWL!
But sweet quips aside, Daryl's logic is seriously sour. It entails that he, having knowingly broken the law, remains morally pure and unimpeachable, while Shane Alexis, whose candidacy is squarely within the law, causes "a shame" that raises "moral issues". Dat nuh mek nuh sense.
DO VOTERS REALLY CARE?
Before I go any further, I should probably say that it is my settled belief that the whole citizenship imbroglio is a fascination of the political classes, and nothing more than a curiosity to most voters. They already have baked in to their view of politicians a preconception of entitlement and privilege where "dem fly out regular". More generously, it could be said that voters are more interested in who they like and who will represent them well, and are generally less prone to resentment about dual-citizenship status. Most, as Adi the Teacher would confirm, openly wish they had it.
So I don't think this distraction will influence the voting in South East St Mary one way or another. The proof lies in Daryl's own case. Voters answered the ill-advised legalism meant to oust him from the seat by putting him squarely and resoundingly back. The same result followed for Shahine, and Uncle 'Longfinger' Warmy. I was not surprised at all to read reports of interviews in SE St Mary where electors basically said they cared not one fig about the citizenship of the candidate.
The other thing worth mentioning is the deep and abiding hypocrisy of the JLP and the PNP when it comes to this issue.
The PNP still wheels out "My fada born ya", and truth be told, I like the tune - a lot - and I hope they don't stop using it. All the same, it does carry that hint of pinched parochialism that was aimed at smashing Mr Seaga over the head with a cudgel for the unpardonable sin of being born in the USA. Furthermore, it was the PNP that pushed, or permitted others to push, constitutional challenges to overturn voter preferences.
Let's look at the bright side. At least everyone agrees that the constitutional citizenship requirements to stand for parliamentary office make no sense. They've know this for some time. A stranger from Pakistan or Bangladesh could settle down and establish residence for a year, travel half the time, and still stand for office. Meanwhile, people unmistakably Jamaican cannot. However, our parliamentarians, being who they are, have done nothing to change these absurdities. It's been 10 years!
My own view is that anyone who is a Jamaican, dual triple or quadruple citizenship notwithstanding, ought to be able to stand for any office. In other words, the Constitution ought to be amended so that Daryl and Longfinger Warmington would have traduced no law. But also, Mr Alexis, who is unquestionably a dedicated de facto Jamaican, would be required to kindly become a de jure Jamaican and secure some papers before standing for office.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.