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Maziki Thame: JLP’s victory and the need to respect the people

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2016 | 3:00 AMMaziki Thame
Thame: The one-term turnovers of the last two electoral cycles should lead our politicians to conclude that power is not given or absolute in a democratic polity

There are no grave differences between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP). There are differences of style (personality politics) and degrees of commitment to neo-liberal ideology, which says the market is king and the government's main role is to facilitate private interests and, in our case, make Jamaica 'investor friendly'. I would rather live in a country that is people friendly.

The one-term turnovers of the last two electoral cycles should lead our politicians to conclude that power is not given or absolute in a democratic polity (or even in an authoritarian one because the people always have agency). It is less so when victory has come through a low voter turnout and a narrow majority.

If the PNP was arrogant in its approach to the public, the JLP should see the writing on the wall. The political moment is one in which the electorate is uncommitted, moving with the market, so to speak. If it looks shiny, we will buy it and wear it, but only until it becomes worn out.

When victory is tenuous, politics should be about compromise, not alienation. It should be about building trust, not bad faith. If we are concerned with inequality and the privilege of the few, Jamaican politicians should look to the example of former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who not only did not drive a 'pretty car and live inna big house', but virtually took a vow of poverty.

There are aspects of the JLP manifesto that are promising. It is written with respect for the environment and the trouble we are in with climate change. On the other hand, the JLP's dependence on market logic is troubling. To address our water woes, the Government promised, among other actions, to list the National Water Commission (NWC) on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. As is, the NWC is not an attractive investment option.

If it were that people somehow came to believe so and invested their monies therein, as with all shareholders, they would expect a return on their investment. This means that the profit motive would need to be introduced. In a country with high poverty and high levels of alienation, we should consider the social costs of such a move. What does limiting access to water do to health, people's dignity, their social well-being and their sense of inclusion?

 

EXPANDING POSSIBILITIES

Education represents the sector with most potential for expanding possibilities for our people. It is also a sector through which we can, and have, effected exclusion and reinforced poverty of the mind and socio-economic status in Jamaica. The JLP manifesto announced an intention to introduce an Age 4 Assessment programme to detect challenges and intervene early. Our education system does not need another standardised test, and certainly not for children of four years.

The current education system effectively uses tests to weed out children, not expand their opportunities. The public primary-school system that schools 90 per cent of children is based on streaming children into those destined for failure and those able to succeed. At 11 years old, we tell our children that they will come to nothing because they have underperformed in a set of tests in which success and failure was already predetermined. The system favours children in smaller class sizes, like those in private schools and the minority for whom English is their first language.

The JLP also promised to "ensure that teacher training includes gender-sensitive pedagogical approaches to strengthen the focus on optimising education for our boys" (not girls). Why do we accept that male underperformance in education equates with their marginalisation in society? We would do better to question why boys opt out of the system and where they then go.

The promise is consistent with attempts to restore patriarchy, to return boys to the centre, in a crisis of masculinity. The problem of boys' underperformance has to be considered in terms of the declining belief that education leads to social mobility, that it empowers you, and that your masculinity can be reinforced in the system.

Jamaicans have been increasingly alarmed about high levels or crime and violence in our society. Unfortunately, that has led many to believe that militarising the police forces and disregarding human rights is the solution to our problems. The JLP manifesto promised that the party will not tolerate abuse of power. This is commendable.

But, and this is a big but, it also promised, among other measures, to declare 'no-crime zones' in critical public spaces in which a zero-tolerance approach will be taken to even the smallest infraction of the law; construct or deploy 30 police posts in areas identified as crime hotspots; establish a minimum of 15 joint police-military posts in high-ground areas where criminals supposedly occupy.

Where are these 'critical public spaces' and 'hotspots' that the JLP sees as needing harsher policing? What has changed in the security forces that would lead us to believe they would not resort to the usual disrespect, abuse of and violence against poor Jamaicans once they have more power? The just-ended commission of enquiry brought to light offences that occurred in the 2010 joint military and police operation in West Kingston, and we saw the people of that community humiliated over and over again by lawyers defending the security forces.

Those of us not yet indifferent to the killing and abuse of poor blacks in Jamaica do not forget such offences. The people's vote against austerity in this last election is an indication that they will not always be prepared to be long-suffering.

- Dr Maziki Thame is a political scientist at University of the West Indies, Mona. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and maziki.thame02@uwimona.edu.jm.