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Democracy at risk - Bad-mouth politics drives away brightest minds, says PJ

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM
P.J. Patterson

Gary Spaulding, Gleaner Senior Writer

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson yesterday warned of grave consequences for the country's democracy if politicians continue to pursue the dangerous path of denigrating and belittling the efforts of their rivals.

"We must abandon the adversarial approach of the past and replace it with a consensual form of politics to embrace the best ideas regardless of the political quarters from which those ideas originate," declared Patterson.

He was addressing a joint sitting of Parliament convened to honour him.

"I underline this problem to warn of the dangers ahead ... if we fail to posture a political environment that discourage (the) brightest minds to participate in the political process, we are placing our democracy at risk," Patterson cautioned.

Patterson stressed that his comments were not motivated by bitterness. He also said he was not seeking to prevent opposing forces from exacting scrutiny.

"I readily accept the need for accountability, I regard accountability as an essential component of good democratic governance," Patterson said.

Sad state of affairs

The former prime minister said politicians "have contributed to our sad state of affairs by our utterances here and on public platforms."

"Personal friendships exist among many on both sides of the political divide, but how often do we say something good or positive about the initiatives of the opposing political party," he lamented.

"I want to leave you with a word of advice, please remember we are always on show," declared Patterson.

"We have another reason to treasure and display those worthy tradition, our demeanour; intellectual discourse and dedication in our work as legislators must be above board to encourage others to follow in our footsteps in the worthy cause of service to our people," Patterson said.

The former prime minister urged parliamentarians to perpetuate the strengthening of its democracy by firmly entrenching its root and extending the branches of civil participation.

In the meantime, Patterson stressed that despite claims to the contrary, there was much that has been accomplished since independence in 1962. He said there has always been a smooth transition of power after general elections.

"We must be proud that the two political parties concede defeat that has prevented the intervention of the army at any time. There has been no attempt to usurp the independence of judiciary, even when courts have issued adverse ruling against both administrations while in office," he declared.

He said freedom of expression was high, evident in the proliferation of talk shows on the airwaves that demonstrate the level of democracy.

Patterson listed the repealing of a range of laws rooted in colonialism and slavery and the enactment of legislation promoting social equality among achievements of independent Jamaica.

He, however, admitted that since independence there has been a marked deceleration in economic growth.

"We must resolve to do much better," he declared.