“There’s no humourist like history” Will Durant once wrote. Meaning that no matter what the situation, go back or forward far enough in time and circumstances will be completely reversed. Eight hundred years ago for example Mongolia was the centre of the largest land empire the world has known, while North America was a sparsely populated wilderness. Today Mongolia is an isolated backwater and North America is home to the most powerful nation yet known to man. Who is to say that in another 800 years their positions will not again have revolved?


Historical absurdities can take place in very short time spans. Saddam Hussein went from US ally in 1988 to being chased out of Kuwait by the US army in 1991. Less than two decades ago Osama bin Laden fought with US backing against Russian invaders in Afghanistan. Last September he masterminded the destruction of the New York World Trade Center – the latest effort in his campaign to drive the American infidel from his Saudi Arabian homeland – while America now wants him dead or alive.


Even in Jamaica such eternal recurrence in reverse can be observed. I mean Michael Manley must be either laughing or crying in his grave over the current free education debate. Could the great dreamer ever have imagined that the same hard-headed numbers first Edward Seaga who condemned his concept of free education for all as theoretically admirable but practically impossible would one day use this very same promise as his party’s main election platform? And it certainly was hilarious to hear former profligate socialist comrades adamantly proclaim themselves guardians of fiscal responsibility and deriding Seaga’s idea as an unworkable pie in the sky electioneering promise. Until of course P. J. Patterson realized the public liked the no school fees idea and so hurriedly threw his ‘phasing out cost sharing’ plans into the political ring. As they say, you couldn’t make it up.


Of course Mr. Manley’s kareeba to suit and tie sartorial transformation showed he was no stranger to public reinvention himself. But even Joshua is surely shaking his head with amusement at the unblushing manner in which the former revolutionary behind the throne Dr. D.K. Duncan has repackaged himself. Who in 1980 could ever have guessed that the fire breathing preacher of extremism whose every utterance betrayed a deep seated desire to destroy the existing Jamaican political culture would two decades later promote himself as a calm Nestorian voice of moderation? And surely no one watching Dr. Duncan march down North Street with his comrades chanting ‘next time, next time’ in 1978 could ever have imagined that the main target of his ire, Mr. Oliver Clarke, would one day employ him as one of the Gleaner’s chief political columnists.


To be sure D.K. is not the only one whose political long march has carried him far from his original positions. Has not the island’s most dedicated Marxist, Dr. Trevor Munroe, also been transformed into a noble defender of parliamentary democracy? And look how Bruce Golding, the once feared JLP ‘warlord’ and don chieftain of Spanish Town, has become the nation’s most relentless critic of political patronage and garrisonship.


None of this is meant to mock these men. Their conversions seem sincere, and they do very valuable work in educating the populace. Political warnings from those who have seen the underbelly of the beast and ‘been there and done that’ are a lot more convincing than the spoutings of arm chair commentators. Personally I would love to see them commit their hard won wisdom to print. We have heard confessions like “I have consorted with gunmen” and “I have done many wicked things in the name of my party”. But it would be immensely interesting to hear on what once sincerely held but now seen as mistaken grounds they justified their former actions and by what process they arrived at their current views.


That such intelligent men should once have seen violence as at least a necessary evil in solving this country’s problems is surely a warning to all as to how heightened emotions can corrupt the thinking process. And with the upcoming election shaping up to be the closest since independence, surely all the relevant authorities should be having extensive public discussions as to what will happen if – in race track terms – the final results are too close to call.


Now everyone seems to agree that neither side deserves a big majority. The most common reaction when you ask people who they plan to vote for is “Bwoy, me fraid a the fourth term ting, but me no sure me trus the JLP.’ But while in theory a close seat count and the resulting strong opposition would undoubtedly be a good thing for the country, the practical considerations of a photo finish election cannot be ignored.


Even in 1997’s one sided rout there were constituencies where both sides cried foul and recounts and court decisions were necessary. What will happen if there is only a 4, 2, or no seat difference and there are a dozen constituencies with mobs loudly crying ‘dem tief wi!’? For the recent Spanish Town flag killings showed that even when representatives are not actively egging them on Jamaican political supporters often behave like English football hooligans and attack any perceived opponent.


Imagine gas riots level disturbances taking place at the same time as a July 2001 style Tivoli explosion and a full scale armed Mountain View roadblock, while violent confrontations simultaneously erupted in Grant’s Pen, Arnett and Flankers. It’s a nightmare thought, but certainly far from inconceivable in the overheated atmosphere of a very close election if reckless rabble rousers got involved.


The parties themselves already seem too far gone to listen to reason, with both convinced of certain victory and pooh poohing any talk of a possible dead heat. But surely bodies like the Electoral Office and the Electoral Advisory Council and CAFFE should now be carrying out an active bi-partisan public education campaign advising voters how to behave in case we have a result that resembles what happened in the US in 2000, or Trinidad last year, or even Jamaica in 1949. And certainly the media should be doing every thing it can to put the issue on the front burner and use moral suasion to force the parties to publicly state what they would do, or more importantly not do, in such an event. Because based on the current statistical tie in the polls, one of these scenarios is more likely to happen than not.


Do we really want to wait till the country is in flames to see if the fire hydrants are working and the fire engines have gas? changkob@hotmail.com

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