Daryl Vaz, Guest Columnist
In recent weeks, I have been very strident and vocal on the matter of respecting democracy - in this case, the impending challenge for leadership in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Let me remind readers of my participation and observance of the principles of democracy. In 1986, I ran as councillor for the JLP and was victorious. In 2006, I entered an internal selection for chairman and candidate for West Portland and was victorious. Again, in 2006, I ran for the position of deputy treasurer of the JLP and was victorious.
In 2007, I ran as candidate for West Portland and was successful. In 2009, I was successful in the by-election in West Portland. In 2010, I ran for general secretary of the party, but was unsuccessful. In 2011, I again ran as member of parliament for West Portland. In all of these events, democracy was at the centre and the ultimate winner.
It is with this background that I have rubbished the perceived myth that the party cannot, and has not, handled some internal races well and that a challenge at this year's conference is ill-timed and not healthy for the JLP, as expressed by some backers of the incumbent leader.
CONFRONTING DISMAL RECORD
If we are to judge from the past 70 years of the party's existence, where there have been only two challenges on record, we have spent the last 21 of 25 years in Opposition. Perhaps this is because the delegates have not often got the opportunity to exercise their democratic right in choosing a leader. This could be one of the many reasons for this dismal track record.
This impending challenge for leadership in the party has received widespread support in the country based on the principle of democracy and less to do with the contenders. Since the challenge is now a foregone conclusion, let me take this opportunity and give some unsolicited advice to my colleagues, delegates, supporters and well-wishers of the JLP to let us embrace this challenge and take the opportunity to dispel the notion that leadership challenges 'mash up the party'. What will mash up the party is the lack of a challenge.
We have proven that to be partially true, and we have seen the negative effect. If we don't change the way we have done things, we can't expect a different result. Let us show the party's maturity at 70 years and display love and respect for all, even while we choose to agree, or agree to disagree on who we support.
We have not necessarily got off to a good start during the consultative period of this process, but we can make it right in the coming weeks of intense campaigning.
The two contenders must lead by example and be held accountable for their words and actions. They must take responsibility for the actions and behaviour of their supporters and be firm in applying sanctions publicly to those who defy their instructions and not dismiss their actions as youthful exuberance or emotive outbursts. (The leader's utterances on 'All Angles' last Thursday did not help set the tone.)
I encourage all MPs/constituency caretakers to allow free access to the delegates to both contenders and allow them to outline their visions for the party and the country. The Oversight Election Committee and general secretary, along with both contenders, must sign off on a transparent and verifiable method of finalising the delegates list and a mutually accepted election process.
It will require that the two contenders and their teams/supporters, while campaigning, portray their candidate's strengths rather than negatively campaigning on the back of their opponent. Any type of negative campaigning will benefit only our opponent, the People's National Party (PNP), and will leave the elected leader with a divided and acrimonious party. After all, any leader who emerges will need 100 per cent of the JLP and more to be victorious in any future election.
Let me send a cautionary word to those who feel it is either their candidate or no candidate at all. This attitude is outdated and has held back our party for years. Bury it. It is also disrespectful to the delegates of the JLP.
Let us now focus and examine what this leadership election is about - 'winnability'.
Who can lead us to victory into 2016? Who has the prerequisites to engage, energise and excite the base of the party, the masses, the working class, the business class and the uncommitted? Let us not cloud this main issue with love, friendship, colour, class or money, as some have been doing.
I urge all delegates to examine carefully and closely the objective of a political party - which is to win elections - and encourage them to assess both candidates objectively and independently, as in the end, your choice must be be respected by all.
I have made my decision to support Audley on the above sole criterion - winnability - and unlike others who speak negatively against those who they don't support, I have nothing but praise for the current leader for his work and dedication to the party and the country and that my personal preference does not take away anything from his achievements. After all, this race can only make whichever contender who is successful be stronger for the challenge.
I must hasten to point out that unlike others, I am not a career politician, but rather entered politics for the love of country and to serve the people. For the time that I remain on the condition that I continue to serve with love, I want to be able to achieve maximum benefits for my constituents and feel strongly that in order to do so, it is important to be in government in order to be part of the decision-making bodies that allocate govern-ment resources for programmes and infrastructure for the uplifting of my constituents and development of my constituency.
I therefore have no interest in remaining in Opposition for any extended period, and it is with this in mind that we must make this decision as delegates in the coming weeks on one criterion - winnability of the candidates in 2016, if not before. All else means nothing in this particular contest.
I hope and pray that in the coming weeks, all involved can put aside egos, agendas, dislikes, insecurities and put this noble party at the forefront and, most of all, respect the delegates whom we have empowered as the decision makers, based on our Constitution, to make their choice - same man; same vote for free and fair elections; and free from fear.
I can assure us all that if this advice is taken, any leader will come out stronger and better able to carry out his mandate and the JLP can quickly become the people's government-in-waiting.
Daryl Vaz is member of parliament for West Portland. Email feedback to email@example.com.