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EDITORIAL - Attacking the gangs of Gordon House

Published:Thursday | October 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THE SPECIAL sitting of Parliament on Tuesday to honour Edward Seaga was a symbolically important move which we hope will help to accelerate the remodelling of the gangs of Gordon House and the way they practise politics in Jamaica.

The occasion was significant for it is rare that the leader of one of the gangs - the parties that alternate political power in Jamaica - causes the leader, or former head of the other, to be so publicly and officially celebrated, as Mrs Portia Simpson Miller of the People's National Party allowed Edward Seaga to be. When it happens, it is not usually during the lifetime of that leader.

Mr Seaga, 82, a former leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, was very much at Gordon House on Tuesday. He absorbed the accolades of sitting MPs before offering his own prescriptions for rescuing Jamaica from its economic malaise and returning it to the promise at Independence, half a century ago, of economic growth, rapid development and social stability.

That promise, it is widely agreed, was largely squandered.

Hailing seaga

The celebration of Mr Seaga was for the fact that he is the last surviving member of the committee that drafted Jamaica's Constitution, and for the fact that he spent over 40 years as a legislator, including eight as prime minister, before his retirement in 2005.

The speeches on Tuesday hailed Mr Seaga as a visionary, strong, pragmatic leader, who built important institutions, presided over periods of robust economic growth and saved Jamaica's democracy.

Even Mrs Simpson Miller waded deep into the fest.

"This pragmatist gave no comfort to fundamentalists," she said. "His vision embraced building modern and effective processes at all levels."

There is little doubt that Mr Seaga was a decisive leader who contributed much, and whose policies, implemented to their fullest, might have transformed Jamaica.

What, however, was not explored in Gordon House was how Jamaica's tribalistic politics - too often pursued for the immediate, and narrow, benefit of the members of the gangs - undermined the effectiveness of policy and how acquiescent leadership facilitated this.

None can deny contribution

Neither Mr Seaga nor Mrs Simpson Miller, we believe, can credibly escape, and would, perhaps, not deny that they contributed to an entrenchment of the politics of exclusion and the distribution of spoils, against which Jamaicans are increasingly turning their faces.

Indeed, Mr Seaga led his party for more than quarter of a century, including periods of strident partisanship when national consensus on almost anything seemed impossible and violence sometimes seemed to be Jamaica's preferred solution to resolving political difference. Mr Seaga's parliamentary constituency, where he enjoyed almost fanatical loyalty, was among the most hardened of the so-called 'garrisons', areas where rival political tendencies are not often welcomed, or forgivingly entertained.

Mrs Simpson Miller may have, so far, led her party for only six years. But she has long been a popular politician whose rhetoric was often sharply divisive. For nearly four decades, she has represented a 'garrison' that is as impenetrable as any.

Mr Seaga has left the active political scene. But his remains an influential voice, capable of attacking the gang-style structure of the political parties and destructive politics that it spawns.

Mrs Simpson Miller, however, has the opportunity for direct action to effect change. An act such as Tuesday's, indirect as it was, gives us hope that the gangs of Gordon House may change.

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