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Dreaming of a new Jamaica

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs. - Enoch Powell

Powell was probably right in a short-term sense. Democratic political careers are usually ended by death, illness, scandal-driven resignation, term limits, electoral defeat, or impending defeat. An elected leader voluntarily stepping down while basking in glory as voters beg him to stay is a vanishingly rare sight.

Look at some recent long-serving elected leaders. Ronald Reagan left office pitied as a forgetful and addled old man. Bill Clinton's epithet as he vacated the White House was 'Monica Lewinski'. George W. Bush's was 'Iraq quagmire'.

Margaret Thatcher was pushed out by colleagues sensing defeat if she remained at the helm. Tony Blair was smart enough to jump ship before being voted out, as happened to his successor. P.J. Patterson also sailed away before the wind changed, with his replacement losing the ensuing election.

But a few years out of office often burnishes the once-tarnished.

Ronald Reagan was voted 'greatest American ever'. Bill Clinton is increasingly remembered not as a perjuring pervert but as bringer of economic prosperity. Margaret Thatcher is widely considered the most decisive leader since Winston Churchill.

The jury is still out on Blair and Bush, but slowly the dismissive sneers are changing to maybe-they-weren't-that-bad nods. Patterson, too, is seen less these days as a 'ginnal anancy' and more as a 'patient statesman'.

History unfolding

With Bruce Golding, however, you can almost see history being rewritten in real time. Merely 62 days ago at the People's National Party (PNP) conference, he was a laughing stock, mocked with waved suitcases, and derided with chants of "pack your bags and go!" A week later, he resigned an apparent failure.

But 10 days later when Andrew Holness was unanimously acclaimed as his successor, people started saying, "Wait a second!" When recent polls showed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) gaining 14 points since April, even Golding's critics began wondering if he was as crazy as a fox. Had the whole thing been a well-thought-out plan?

Only he knows. But whether by design or luck or both, Mr Golding has once more seen dismal failure turn into stunning success. Driven out by JLP 'gangs' into a seemingly fruitless National Democratic Movement (NDM) venture, he somehow ended up as JLP head and then prime minister. The same Coke extradition saga that likely made him untenable as prime minister produced Jamaica's largest homicide decline since 1981. And now his resignation in seeming disgrace has given a JLP government that seemed dead and buried an excellent chance of being re-elected.

Putting the ball in the net

One observer likened Golding's manoeuvrings to Diego Maradona in the 1990 World Cup, when he dribbled the ball from half-line, sucked in the entire Brazil defence, and passed to a wide open Claudio Caniggia, who rounded the goalie and scored to win the game for Argentina.

The 11-second video of that goal is indeed a striking visual summation of the last two months of Jamaican politics. Imagine Maradona as Golding; the Brazil defenders as K.D. Knight, Peter Phillips, and Peter Bunting; the Brazil goalie as Portia Simpson Miller; and Andrew Holness as Claudio Caniggia. Here's the link:

To be sure, Holness has not yet put the ball in the net. But the political momentum of going from 12 points down to 2.5 points up in a month is almost like facing an open goal. Still, favourable as its position might now be, the JLP would be foolish to prematurely count eggs not yet hatched. There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip.

Yet Bruce Golding stepping down has not only given the Labourites a chance of winning, the present JLP has, by accident or design, embraced the vision of enlightened politics he expounded as NDM leader back in 1995.

When Danville Walker lambasted his opponent the other day for practising "old-time politics", I had to laugh. This was exactly what NDM head Golding used to say about the JLP and PNP. Andrew Holness' invitation to Portia Simpson Miller to walk together with him through garrison communities was an idea first put forward by Mr Golding to P.J. Patterson and Edward Seaga in 1997. The announcement of the Bank of Jamaica being given sweeping powers looks like a step towards an eventually independent central bank, another NDM plank.

One NDM idea the JLP should stay far from is replacing Jamaica's wonderfully stable constitutional monarchy parliamentary system with any kind of presidential model. Why tamper with the most effective form of democracy yet invented, as shown by the likes of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden?

Certainly, though Prime Minister Holness should recommit himself to the Partnership for Transformation's Reform Agenda, which again sounds a lot like Golding's NDM manifesto: 1) independent investigation of state agent abuse; 2) whistle-blower protection; 3) investigation and prosecution of corruption; 4) defamation law reform; 5) dismantling garrisons; 6) reform of award of government contracts; 7) impeachment provisions; 8) term limits; 9) political party-financing regulation; 10) constitutional amendments to incorporate critical public institutions; and 11) parliamentary approval for appointments to sensitive posts.

time for New approach

No force can resist an idea whose time has come, and Jamaica is unquestionably in the mood for a new approach to politics. It's as if all the bottled-up cynicism generated by scandals like Trafigura and Manatt is ready to explode into zeal for reform. You can almost feel the eagerness for genuine change in the air.

There are dinosaurs aplenty, both green and orange, and many not so old, who seem loath to give up the aggressive and inflammatory politics that has turned off so many would-be voters. Yet, too, there are bright young candidates on both sides, such as Julian Robinson and Saphire Longmore-Dropinski, espousing a desire to move the Jamaican body politic into a non-violent and non-confrontational modern 21st century. One obvious and welcome manifestation is the record number of woman candidates set to contest the election.

So far, PM Holness has sensibly taken the high road, and appealed to our better instincts. Who could fail to like the tone of the recent JLP ad (and the party must be awash in cash to be running so many ads so early) that talk about 'unleashing the wisdom, creativity and decency that is Jamaica'? But sweet-mouth promises are just that. Will our new prime minister demonstrate in deeds, and not mere words, the courage to lead us into the new political dispensation we long for?

One start would be a different kind of party conference. In an October 15, 2011 Observer report on the PNP conference, Louis E.A. Moyston wrote: "... The selections by Lover's Choice sound system were excessively pushing rabid party tribalism ... . Did the political leaders have no 'ears' for the type of music that was advanced ... .

"... The DJ's voice weaved into 'rebuke dem, dem nuh like wi, an' wi nuh like dem,' the tribal voice as he evoked like response from the audience. Another, 'Wi nuh fraid a nobody ... all when yuh roll with the army ... mi nuh lef mi mangy dog a yaad.' This is not a 'peace, love and unity' theme.

"In the song, I Love My Life ... the voice weaved in 'an wi nuh like Labourites ... .' The message of rabid tribalism at this time is very dangerous."

The populace is certainly expecting better from Crown Prince Andrew.

And my friend D.S. Nikon says a perfect theme song for the JLP conference would be the wonderful 1980 Festival winner by Stanley and the Turbines (, 'I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, a land of peace and love ... .'

Kevin O'Brien Chang is a businessman and author. Email feedback to and