Britain is the world’s oldest democracy. America is the richest. India is the most populous. And watching the JLP mass rally at Half Way Tree last Sunday it occurred to me – and not for the first time – that Jamaica must surely be the most exciting. What other nation celebrates democracy with such unbridled passion?


It wasn’t only the crowd’s almost palpable excitement that made the Labour meeting such an electrifying spectacle. For it was a strikingly natural cultural exhibition, with the candidate’s speeches being highlighted with reggae music and punctuated with firecrackers and gunshots into the ganja smoke filled night air. It really resembled a gigantic dancehall stage show. And is the norm in these things, chaos kept threatening to break out but never quite did. Is there any other country that so loves to live on a knife edge, and so practiced at never quite falling off?


Now the normal pattern of mature democracies is for two major parties of roughly equal competence to emerge. And once they are periodically rotated, it doesn’t really matter which holds the reins of government. As long as no party or person gets a monopoly on power, a country will generally be as well governed as the people demand. Democracy’s magic lies not in outstanding leaders or wise constitutions but in the constant infusion of new ideas which only constant competition can provide.


And looking at the JLP Half Way Tree spectacle it struck me – as it had with its PNP predecessor – that politics in Jamaica has as much to do with supporting your side in a sporting competition as with governance. For the crowds at these rallies seem more concerned with cheering on their team than deciding which party is best suited to running the country. The upper crust may sneer at party songs and symbols and colours, but the Jamaican common man clearly revels in these badges of solidarity and loves the excitement of flag waving motorcades and marches. I’ve always felt the NDM’s biggest mistake was to reject the very aspects of politics Jamaicans most enjoy. The people of this country will tolerate anything except boredom.


Of course one unfortunate side effect of the Jamaican penchant for fever pitch excitement is that verbal confrontations too often become physical ones. And it’s hardly surprising that a country whose domestic murder level is higher than most countries’ overall rate is plagued with political violence. It’s a sad commentary on this country that a racially divided Trinidad could contest a razor close election without a single incident while our artificial orange and green tribalism results in daily campaign deaths.


No doubt much of this is due to what P.J. Patterson called ‘a perpetual fight between hostile tribes’ for scarce benefits and spoils. But that can’t be the entire explanation, for Jamaica was a lot poorer in the 1940s and 50s and yet the two parties used to hold joint meetings without any violence taking place.


And while a lot of the violence is unquestionably fomented by power hungry politicians trying to intimidate opponents, the behaviour of many party supporters during election time reminds me of nothing so much as British football hooliganism. Meaning they function as quasi-gangs and give rootless young men a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves, which they will defend at any cost against any perceived threat.


Which is not to say our politicians are powerless to reduce the violence. If they all refused to associate in any way with anyone who used force to get others to vote for their party, the killing and wounding would fall sharply. But our leaders continue to speak like blind angels, with both Mr. Patterson and Mr. Seaga denying in Thursday’s national debates that they have ever seen any of their political supporters with a gun.


Bruce Golding is the only major politician who has had the moral courage to admit his past mistakes and completely disassociate himself from violence. Which is why I voted for his party in the last election and why I will vote for his party again in this one. As the man said, it’s not the vehicle that matters but the message. And since he has rejoined the JLP I have not noticed any change in the content of his utterances. Let the bad minded say what they will, he has stuck courageously to his principles.


In my opinion Mr. Golding made a realpolitic mistake by not demanding a seat and formal position within the JLP as a condition of return. And history may well record that he committed political suicide by depending completely on his integrity and moral authority to secure his future. All unarmed prophets, they say, become martyrs. But you have got to respect a man who unconditionally risked his entire political future to serve his country.


His re-entrance into the fray has certainly transformed this election. Without Golding Labour was headed for certain defeat and the worrying prospect of another one sided parliament loomed large. His return has made it a real horse race, though the JLP leadership has inexplicably diluted ‘the Bruce factor’ by not giving him at least an official party position. They may live to regret it.


Polls are the best known way of predicting elections. And there are no more accurate polls than the Stone-Wignall ones, which have never been outside the margin of error. Of course polls fluctuate and only the last one before the vote means anything. Since this is written before the final Stone-Wignall findings I don’t know who will lead on E-day. By all reports the PNP is currently ahead, but there is a strong sense around that the Golding infused JLP is closing the gap and could pull off an upset victory.


I am hoping for a parliament where the opposition has at least 25 seats, no matter who wins. But whatever happens I am confident that the Jamaican people, as they have done 12 times before, will make the right decision. Although God knows what will happen if we get a 30-30 seat tie.

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