While cutting my hair last week I overheard some people discussing the upcoming vote. No one liked the idea of a fourth consecutive one sided PNP win. But, everyone kept asking, what was going to happen to the JLP when Seaga retired? Try as they might, no one could come up with a positive reason to vote for either main party. “Boy” one man finally exclaimed “it look like we have a 911 election. We on the top floor and the building on fire. So we can either stay up there and burn up with the PNP or jump out and crash with the JLP!”.


Now the JLP should be breezing to victory. For the PNP has done little right since 1989 – the murder rate has doubled, we have not seen decent economic growth in over a decade, and billions of dollars have been stolen or squandered. The house, road and water projects of which the government boasts have entailed massive cost overruns, and the recent hurried orgy of infrastructure completions will have hugely negative fiscal implications next year. The recent IMF warnings may be only the first intimations of severe economic upheavals to come.


But politics is not about the best or even the good – it’s about the better. And this election brings to mind the old joke of the two men in the woods who come across an angry bear. One of them immediately takes off his heavy boots and puts on sneakers. “What are you doing?” his friend laughs, “You can’t outrun a bear!” “I don’t have to outrun the bear” his companion replies. “I just have to run faster than you”.


And for all the government’s failures this PNP and JLP horserace is beginning to resemble a mule versus a donkey. The comrades have conducted a brilliant campaign. They staged a successful set of feel good events in the World Junior Games, the Emancipation Park opening, and the Independence parade. They have opened a stream of imposing – if excessively costly – projects just in time to get maximum voting exposure. And while there are questions about P.J. Patterson’s health, credible potential successors like Peter Phillips, Omar Davis and Portia Simpson give a clear vision of the future.


The coffin issue was a slight stumble, but it was damage controlled with impressive dispatch. All in all the Orangemen have done an excellent job of marketing.


The Green campaign has been disorganized and uninspiring. Its free education theme is popular, but where is its shadow cabinet and its highly touted G2K youth arm? All we see is Eddie Seaga’a face, as if he alone can win the election. For even if he might have saved Jamaican democracy in 1980, time stands still for no man and Mr. Seaga is clearly not the same dynamo he was 22 years ago.


Furthermore at 72 he has only a few years left in active politics and yet no one has a clue what will happen when he goes. The recent Stone Polls confirmed that the only JLP deputy whose name can be prefixed with Prime Minister without voters shuddering is Audley Shaw. And big questions have been raised about his self-discipline, or lack thereof. 


So we voters have two visions before us. One is a tarnished but fairly well organized Patterson team spearheaded by Phillips and Davis. The other is an aging Seaga with a big black hole of uncertainty behind him. And most non-partisans will always choose the devil they know over a puss in a bag.


Mr. Seaga has only himself to blame, as his behaviour over the last decade reminds one of Tzu-Hsi, the dowager empress of China from 1861 to 1908. Her elimination of all opposition ensured her unchallenged rule but also stifled reform and kept China backwards, resulting in a century of chaos.


Mr. Seaga’s proscription of all possible challengers to his leadership has had similar baleful results, leaving his party almost bare of men with both ability and experience. And had Bruce Golding taken over after Mr. Seaga’s second straight defeat in 1993 and surrounded himself with a new team, as a normal sequence of events would have dictated, the JLP would likely be unbeatable today.


Instead it is facing total collapse, for if this election was a horserace it would be all over bar the shouting. Three months ago the JLP was 5 points ahead. A month ago the PNP drew level. Now it’s 5 points ahead and pulling away, making many predict an over 10 point PNP romp.


But another JLP wipeout would grant the PNP parliamentary carte blanche for another 5 years, which might be disastrous for our democracy. Because 18 straight years – and it could easily become 23 or more – of a party ramming through any legislation it pleases at will cannot be healthy for any democracy. Is the Attorney General’s assertion that a PNP win will be taken as an endorsement of a Caribbean Court of Appeal a troubling sign of things to come?


Then there are the 10 garrison constituencies the PNP is guaranteed to win, versus only one for the JLP. This in essence means we have lost a sixth of our democracy, and another landslide might soon make it a third or a half. This is not to doubt the PNP’s good intentions for Jamaica, but no human or party can be trusted with virtually indefinite absolute power.


Personally I don’t care who wins the election. But I do feel a strong opposition with at least 20 or even 25 seats is necessary for the sake of this country’s long term well being. And on present trends the JLP will be lucky to win 15.


This is Mr. Seaga’s last election. And if he hopes to leave a positive legacy he now has no choice but to ask his old comrade in arms Bruce Golding to rejoin the JLP. For while some wonder about the fire in his belly, no one can doubt Golding’s intelligence, experience and integrity and he is Labour’s only hope of offering Jamaicans an acceptable vision of the future.


Golding and former lieutenants Wayne Chen and Christopher Tufton added to the present JLP team would immediately transform Labour from the murky unknown into the viable alternative without which no democracy can function. Win or lose the party needs someone of his stature.


Some JLP deputies might protest, but a minor share of power is better than none at all and they surely realize that without Golding the JLP now faces another probable humiliation. If they block his return out of spiteful crab-in-a-barrelism an angry electorate will certainly consign them to the dustbin of history.


Some say Mr. Golding’s return now would smack of opportunism. But to me it would a noble response to his country’s call in time of need. So Mr. Seaga please do the right thing and offer Mr. Golding a write your own ticket invitation to return. And Mr. Golding please accept. You both owe it to your country.


As the song says - Tomorrow may be too late. It’s now or never. Jamaica can’t wait. changkob@hotmail.com


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