Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Mark Wignall | JLP ahead but PNP closing fast

Published:Sunday | November 27, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Lennox Hines, JLP councillor-candidate for the Southborough division in Portmore, in a jovial mood after being nominated on November 11 to contest the November 28 local government elections.
Danhai Williams (right) and Karl Blythe at the PNP's 66th annual conference at The Mico University College on February 5, 2005.

As the night of November 28 eases into the early morning of the next day, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is banking on its organisational readiness, significant embers remaining of the fire of February 25, and its hold on the state machinery to hugely reverse the People's National Party's (PNP) 152 electoral divisions and increase its 75.

I am not getting the sense that the people most likely to vote on Monday will be using the JLP administration's most-spoken-of 'policy success', that of keeping the macroeconomy on an even keel and heading slowly in the right direction as a key judgement.

There has been a visible uptick in jobs in private construction, and this tells me that those in the middle and upper middle class are using credit, making the banks happy, and stimulating the economy by providing site jobs from $1,500 per day up to the level of where the boss starts to bawl.

The few who will turn out tomorrow (probably low 26 per cent to a high of 36 per cent) will do so more on the basis that they are diehard supporters of their party than they give two flying figs that garbage has not been collected in two weeks or that the gully stinks.

But if the middle class sits this one out as usual, and there is room for optimism among them, and the business class has no reason to frown, all of those social gears may just provide for the JLP the interlocking slots that will put it over the edge and win the elections.

But with the surprise of polls done not published, it is very difficult to 'guesstimate' the seat breakdown, except to say the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation will be a keener contest than the many outside of the Kingston Metropolitan Area, and conventional wisdom (does the concept still exist?) supports the idea that the JLP has exuded confidence throughout the campaign, while the PNP seems forced into quiet mode.

If crime concerns should somehow enter the judgement, the JLP could suffer. On the other hand, core supporters of the JLP and the PNP, who will make up the large bulk of Monday's vote, may just decide among themselves to give the JLP additional power at the municipal corporation level, as it looks the better of the two parties in simple readiness to govern.

The prime minister has not, so far, made any foolish statements as he did on the campaign trail for the general election by promising that crime would be much less of a concern when his party took power. More discerning voters may take the broad view that a protest vote in the PNP's favour will still not give the PNP power to alter anything of significance.

The JLP should benefit from that. And from Portia, too.


Pros and cons of badman links


Prior to having lunch with Danhai Williams at an uptown eatery some years ago, a few burly men who were his bodyguards scouted the restaurant. Then he appeared. We also had a simple yet lavish fish lunch at his Homestead Road office, along with some rough-looking young men who were more than his loyalists.

We met at Devon House one day while I was writing articles about Operation PRIDE and he was one of the main contractors cited. I gather that officers from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) surreptitiously took pictures of us. They were probably trailing him and not me.

One day, while returning from the airport, I stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Mountain View Avenue and Old Hope Road. A windscreen washer appeared. I told him no, but he refused and pressed ahead. When I shouted to him, he threw a wall of dirty suds on the windscreen.

I told him a string of bad words as he flicked open a switchblade and came menacingly towards the car. Chupski touched the 'up' switch on the window as the light changed and I sped through. I felt violated and belittled in front of my lady.

The next day, I called Danhai Williams and told him about the incident because I knew he wielded significant influence on the ground in the east. He asked for details. A few days later, he called me and said, 'Hey, Papa, if you pass dat way again, I don't think yu going to run into that problem again.'

In 1999, in broad daylight, I was held up at the corner of Sunlight Street and Maxfield Avenue. I wrote about the incident and said that I had driven back to the spot in disguise and spotted the ring leader with the nasty scar on his face.

I received a call from the late 'Jessie Hogg'. In his gravelly voice, he said he wished to see me. We met at his place as he broke out the Remy for me. I gave him details, and about a week later, he told me that my problem was solved. The fellow was unusually chastened.


Stuck with JCF


There are troubling numbers of corrupt and deadly policemen inside the JCF to make us fear it, but also significant numbers of good and well-meaning members to make us want to save it. It is quite difficult to know who in the leadership ranks of the JCF are the genuine article and who are those which are using the Force for infernal reasons.

Every lawyer, judge, prosecutor, most JPs, all big businessmen and politicians know how the JCF is made up, and how it is interwoven in the carriage or miscarriage of justice. The man and woman at street level only know that they are screwed over every time.

The big businessman holds no romantic notions of justice being blind and noble in its pursuit. He is no fool and knows that justice costs money. He also knows that when it is needed, a powerful policeman, as an ally, costs money, too.

As I have stated before, power attracts power, and so big business, the criminal underworld, politics and the many facets of power within the justice system are never far from operating on the same page. Sometimes even the Church will wade in.

If National Security Minister Robert Montague wants to leave a legacy worth much more than words from a politician, he must, in this term, begin the process of reforming the JCF. It's a difficult fix because the bad baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water.

There are men in the JCF who have taken it unto themselves to criminalise their professional status by using the force as a means to enrich themselves.

The youngsters at the bottom have seen it. One man emailed me to say his younger brother was, until five years ago, saying that he was going to stay in the JCF until he would be able to collect a pension.

Now, he is so unmotivated and just waiting on something better to crop up while working on his travel papers.

If significant numbers of people in this country still do not trust the JCF, and especially its hierarchy, to assist in the first part of the delivery of justice, then what we have staring us in the face is the acceptance that it is more than deeply flawed, even criminal in parts of it.

We ought not to fool ourselves that everything that policeman in the viral video said was fable. Many of us know that certain policemen planting guns on the poor is legion. Many shoot-outs are genuine, but so are more than a few just plain murder.

To pretend that all the cop said was worthy of dismissal is understandable. The broader fraternity is forced to defend even the worst inside it because it makes the whole fruit smell rotten.

A school principal may chide and discipline a teacher or sets of teachers. In the JCF, those to be chided and disciplined all have firearms and ammunition. Different rules. More effective alliances. Results may be deadly.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm and