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Celebrating democracy - Jamaican style

Published:Sunday | December 18, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

First, some clarification is in order. In his December 11 Gleaner column, 'Duppy polls, obfuscation, ignorance and simpletons', Bill Johnson wrote, in reference to my December 4 Gleaner article titled 'Political polls and PM promises':

"Let me make it perfectly clear: the 2002 poll prominently cited by Chang in his column as mine was not conducted by me, if, in fact, it was conducted by anybody at all."

Well, I would have to be insane to attribute to Mr Johnson a poll which never existed. What could my motive in doing so possibly be? I have absolutely no interest in dirty tricks or the character assassination of Mr Johnson or anyone else.

So I refer Mr Johnson to this October 15, 2002 Jamaica Observer article (http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/33692_Stone-says-PNP): "The PNP poll, conducted between October 12 and 13 by Bill Johnson, an American who has polled for the PNP for eight years, gave the ruling party 42 per cent support, against 29 per cent for the JLP."

But on to more current matters.

During the height of the 1980 election campaign, the bloodiest in Jamaica's history, Stanley and the Starlights won the festival song competition with the splendid Come Sing With Me.

'I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica

A land of peace and love

Some say they cannot see no hope

That's why they need this knowledge

I know there's love somewhere

That's why I wrote this song

So let me tell you

All who believe in love

I say to sing this song with me

All who believe in love

I say to sing this song with me

La la la la la

And everybody come rock over town

And everybody come rock all around

I know we can build this land

By working hand in hand

Come we come show the world

By working hand in hand.'

Given the near civil-war conditions of the time, Stanley and all those who jammed at the time to the song's hypnotic mento rhythms must have seemed like dreamers indeed.

Yet watching the simply incredible nomination day scenes of green- and orange-clad crowds hugging and dancing together, it seemed Stanley's dream was almost coming true before our eyes. And the newspaper headlines next day really seemed to speak of a new Jamaica in the making:

'Nomination day violence free'

'Like a family fun day'

'Carnival-like atmosphere'

'History in the making: political rivals mingle in West Central St Andrew' (Jamaica Observer, December 13, 2011)

'For some, yesterday was a historical day as People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters walked alongside each other in the West Central St Andrew constituency which has, over many decades, experienced incidents of election violence.

"This is another history in the making," said a man who stood in amazement watching Comrades join a throng of Labourites walking through the constituency with Prime Minister Andrew Holness. JLP leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness greets a PNP supporter in his constituency yesterday.

The Labourites were marching through some of the PNP strongholds with Holness following his nomination, when they were joined by the PNP supporters who had earlier walked with their candidate, Patrick Roberts.

Both supporters danced to the music played by the Tivoli drum corps, which led the group on the more than two-hour walk.

PNP supporters shook hands with Holness, with some initiating the contact, while others hugged each other or engaged in friendly banter as they hoisted flags and shouted support for their respective candidate.

"One time, we would never see Labourites and PNP in the streets like this, so things really changed," another man said as he became emotional.

Holness, in addressing the crowd, said, "Labourites and PNP, we set an example that we live in love and unity, and that is the way it should be."

Now I'm not going to fall into the all-too-common trap of acclaiming a young, new politician as the Messiah returned to earth. There's a lot about Mr Holness we still don't know. No doubt he will in time reveal some of the faults that all human beings, and especially politicians, are prey to. Some scandal or unpleasantness will inevitably arise that will cause many of those now praising him 'as new and different' to exclaim in anger, 'Him is a tief and liar just like all the rest!' Such is politics and such is human nature.

But even if he fails to get a mandate on December 29, Mr Holness will still have left an indelible stamp on Jamaican politics. From the get-go in his inauguration speech, he expounded a new vision of Jamaican politics by looking back to a perhaps mythical past.

"While I was not around when Jamaica took its independence, from all accounts it was a period of great excitement, great hopes and great expectation ... . It was a time of political honour and mutual respect, where I am told, JLP and PNP supporters were welcomed at each other's meetings and the only things thrown were words in good humour."

He then went on assert:

"Jamaica is yearning for a new politics to emerge. How can we be fully free when some of us are not even free to express our conscience? How can we be fully free when some of us are not even free to make our own choices on a ballot? How can we be fully free when some of us are not free to walk around the block for fear of crossing the line? Zones of political exclusion are incompatible with freedom and aspects of our politics are an affront to liberty. It is time to end garrison politics ... .

"Let us start the process by getting the leaders to walk together in these areas of exclusion."

Well, cynics like myself pooh-poohed all this as, at best, the naivety of a neophyte and, at worst, cynical political opportunism.

But you have to give Jack his jacket. Mr Holness, since becoming prime minister, has refrained from any personal attacks and, even under hostile questioning, has never lost his temper or got testy with interviewers. The word people mostly use to describe him is 'calm'.

PM INSPIRING CHANGE

It's obviously not the only reason for the change, since things have been improving from election to election. But there can be no question that this example of a prime minister who keeps condemning election violence, and is generally smiling, and never gets into verbal tussles with opponents, and who never seems to get angry in public, has rubbed off on our politics.

Things commentators were fantasising about a few years back, such as the middle class getting involved again in our politics and attending political meetings, are now reality. People of all ages and classes and levels of education attended that massive Mandeville 'election call' rally. What with the interweaving of stirring rhetoric and music and dancing and prayer, it was a simply exhilarating experience. Where else in the world is politics so much fun? Almost without us noticing, many aspects of the once-longed-for 'good old political days' have indeed returned.

Of course, things are not perfect. Jamaica is a still a lamentably violent country and incidents have occurred and will occur in and out of election season. One way we all can contribute to improving our politics is by immediately referring any untoward incident we witness, by whatever side, to the ombudsman.

This country is blessed in many ways that its citizens are not even aware of. There can be few, if any, mature democracies which so exuberantly celebrate their right to vote. And which could have witnessed the glorious bipartisan jubilation of nomination day and not dreamed of a new Jamaica?

Kevin O'Brien Chang is a businessman and author. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Kobchang365@gmail.com.