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The CCJ: political polarisation

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 5:00 AMAshley-Ann Foster, Contributor

Political polarisation occurs when an individual's stance and/or vote on a particular issue is dictated solely by identification with a political party and normally occurs in societies such as ours which subscribe to a two-party political system.

The stance or vote taken by the individual in many instances could be void of conscience and personal conviction. They, in effect, are censored. Interestingly, this practice of censorship as a collective political action is touted by the international pundits as one of the reasons for voter apathy and, most significantly, as a valid explanation as to 'why the young won't run'.

In countries such as the United States, political polarisation is said to have led to many stalemates owing to "Congress' relative inability over time ... to broach and secure policy compromise on issues high on the national agenda" which, ultimately, are "left in limbo" (Binder 2000).

Here in Jamaica, the practice of political polarisation as it pertains to policymaking is the reason that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) might succeed in not only compromising the matter of the CCJ, which is high on the national and Caribbean agenda, but it will also perpetuate the politics of partisanship and protest which has retarded our postcolonialist growth.

As revealed by the infamous letters of resignation, the JLP seems to be on an illogical and, until recently, unconstitutional warpath to ensure that the Government will 'fail', as it will not even have one senator "breaking the ranks of the Opposition" to satisfy the two-thirds majority which is now needed in the Upper House to pass the CCJ bills (Cliff Hughes in conversation with shadow justice minister Delroy Chuck, Power 106, May 12, 2015).

 

ROLE OF OPPOSITION

 

The JLP's ever-changing and seemingly insincere position on the matter of the CCJ tends to suggest that there is a need for the party to re-examine the role of a responsible Opposition, which is not only to hold the Government accountable or scrutinise legislation, but also to make balanced policy decisions in keeping with the Constitution for the benefit of the populace at large. Opposing for opposing sake, as seems to be the order of the day, is harmful for democracy.

The decision in Arthur Williams v Andrew Holness confirms that "the Constitution intended that once appointed to the Senate, each of the such appointees (in the case of the Opposition) would operate at free will" (Justice Batts). The judgment also concluded that the decisions of opposition senators "should be arrived at because it is their decision, and not because of fear" and that "a decision by a senator to follow or obey the instruction of the leader of the Opposition should be arrived at because it is the wish or desire of the senator" (Justice Batts).

The continued practice of political polarisation by the Opposition, with regard to the impending CCJ vote, fundamentally conflicts with the pronouncement of the Constitutional Court.

We must not forget the actions of these same opposition senators who, despite expressing support for the Urban Renewal Tax Incentives Bill earlier this year, called for a divide and proceeded to vote against the bill in an effort to secure its failure when they realised on the day that there was a temporary reduction in the members of the Senate on the Government side.

We must also not forget the courageous and independent act of Dr Nigel Clarke, who held firmly to his personal conviction and broke ranks with the Opposition for the benefit of the Jamaican people by voting with the Government side.

 

the average J'can man

 

The development of Caribbean jurisprudence and access to justice for the average Jamaican man is a patriotic cause which we must all champion. We must implore the opposition senators to invoke the politics of change by employing their conscience; by putting country before party; by breaking ranks with the Opposition in the Lower House, and by arriving independently at their decision.

As evidenced by the actions of the members of the People's National Party who took the moral and progressive decision to break our tradition of partisan politics by granting the necessary two-thirds majority to the then JLP Government to enable the passing of the Charter of Rights Bill, compromise with the other side does not equate to loss or failure, especially when it inures to the benefit of the Jamaican people.

"The politics of change, as it relates to the creation of a just society, involves both material and attitudinal areas of action leading to transformation. Thus it must involve a constant assault upon the familiar, at both conscious and unconscious levels. It is inevitable that a continuing thrust for change will tend to breed a continuing reaction of fear, since change cannot be restricted merely to the building of more and better roads but involves much else if society is to be accomplished."

- Michael Manley, The Politics of Change

- Ashley-Ann Foster is an attorney-at-law and constituency chairman, East Central St James - PNP. Email feedback to columns