Ronald Thwaites | Overcoming political divisions
Ask any of us engaged in political life: Can either the Jamaica Labour Party or the People’s National Party, one without the other, mobilise the ideas, resources and energy to lead the recovery from the lingering scourge of COVID-19, and liberate...
Ask any of us engaged in political life: Can either the Jamaica Labour Party or the People’s National Party, one without the other, mobilise the ideas, resources and energy to lead the recovery from the lingering scourge of COVID-19, and liberate the majority of Jamaican people from the cramp and meagre opportunity of these times?
What politically inspired forces will it take to amend the Constitution, really widen the base of economic opportunity, transform education and training so as to have a society that works for all? A place where life is safe and sacred.
If we are honest, two answers will be obvious. The first is that the system of political economy which we have now, clearly does not work sufficiently in the interests of the majority. The second conclusion has to be that the process of profound change cannot be brokered in the fractured political environment which we have cultured as normative.
This is the background to the crucial importance of last week’s appeal by retired Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to Andrew and Mark, urging a united approach to the symbolic but hugely sacramental effort to repatriate our Constitution and adopt republican status. Imagine following on that to bring our highest court into the reach of our people.
Think of the healing balm if our leaders promoted a single cause in a referendum campaign. No panacea; no complete cure to divisiveness, but a bright glimpse of what is possible in so many other areas of national life. Surely, surely, a better way than the one we are following now.
Were we to follow P.J., Vale Royal could be redeemed from its expensive uselessness to become a sanctuary of consensus, different to the acrimonious and often disrespectful divide of Gordon House; a place where policymakers would go to acknowledge their individual limitations and their collective strengths.
There, a ceremonial, republican president could serve as a presider, a mediator when backsliding tribalism rears its ugliness.
In a country divided almost equally in party adherence, we could contemplate a revised Constitution which moved away from the weakness of a winner-takes-all system to one of proportional representation, in which the strengths of both sides would be available to the people’s cause – not in congenital antagonism, but in humble comity.
The leader of the party gaining a majority of votes would still be the prime minister. His or her opposite number would not be outed in defeat, but crucially engaged in a role, both collaborative and critical, in the craft of government. Think of the improvement in national confidence if the members of a Cabinet were to be chosen from the best of the elected representatives, rather than from one side only.
I hear the call for more consultation before any change. To differ is not to be disrespectful of the need for civic education, but the move to republicanism has been in the public eye for 50 years. Time now! The mood of the Jamaican people is for incremental, not abrupt, change. Working out the modalities of an executive presidency would take much time and inevitably cause unhelpful dissension.
So let us pressure our leaders to heed P.J. and take the first decisive steps towards doing things together, and so establish a relationship which can become habitual and confront deeper issues, hopefully in short order.
Chief Pearnel Charles and I are, on the surface anyway, very different people. He is from deep-rural peasant stock, a very black man (the hair style only accentuates it!), the original ‘rock-stone’ Labourite, and an Adventist by religious faith. I am of middle-class, white Jamaican origin, a PNP-aligned Christian socialist of Catholic affiliation.
In the past we have clashed on any number of issues. But we share common cause in a fierce love of our nation and a conviction that as a people, we can be much better than our habitual divisiveness has allowed. We both share microphones nowadays on a new radio platform, The Bridge, which aims to unite lovers of Jamaica in the diaspora and at home.
We still disagree on many matters, but always sharply and respectfully. I am happy to learn from his experience, wisdom and mistakes. What if, as a nation, we allowed the cause of the common good to overtake the self-perpetuated ambushes of politics, religion, race, class and ambition for petty power?
Nancy Anderson was one who chose to immerse herself entirely in the struggles for justice and the cause of the common good, particularly for the most vulnerable Jamaicans. What a redemptive gift she made of herself to us!
I met her when she first came as a Peace Corps volunteer at the School for the Deaf in Clarendon. When plenty of us privileged Jamaicans were running away, she chose to become one of us..
She drew close to us at the Jamaican Council for Human Rights and the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic. Asking for little and giving much, she got herself qualified as an attorney so she could contribute more. No fuss, no self-obsession; just solid, lifelong service. And what is more, this kind of life made Nancy happy and fulfilled. What a contrast to the rest of us fretful professionals who have largely abandoned the pursuit of public interest law.
Shouldn’t overcoming divisions, and so advancing the common good, be the highest criterion of national distinction?
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to email@example.com.