2002 Articles


The Jamaican electorate is not infallible. But in my view it has gotten the big picture mostly correct since 1962 and always voted the right party into power. Certainly we were fortunate to have a pragmatist like Bustamante lead us into independence. For by sticking to the tried and true we likely escaped the economic disaster that befell many new nations who put their trust in theoretically attractive but completely untested socialist theories.


Lord Acton’s dictum about absolute power corrupting absolutely is probably the most quoted cliché in politics and quite rightly so, because holding too much power for too long eventually makes even honest men lazy and arrogant.


Do most Jamaicans seem happy? Our professional naysayers here would scoff at the thought - how ridiculous to even ask such a question when the country is sinking in a mire of violence, corruption and poverty! But visitors and foreigners who live here usually say yes.


About a month ago an angry Labourite accosted me. How, she asked, could I call the JLP “manifestly incompetent” when it has been leading in the Stone polls for over 18 months? Did I realize that its current 10 point lead among committed voters was larger than in September 1980, a month before it won a landslide victory? And how could Edward Seaga be ‘unpopular’ when he is the most popular choice for prime minister in the polls? And how could I say the JLP has no intelligent young black men when Ian Hayles, the country’s brightest political strategist, was Mr. Seaga’s chief advisor? And if the PNP was so damned intelligent, how come the murder rate had doubled and the roads had deteriorated and the economy had stagnated since 1989? And if the Labour shadow cabinet was inept, how would I describe the disastrous ministries of Bobby Pickersgill and K.D. Knight and Phillip Paulwell and Karl Blythe? Look at the facts, she demanded, and stop regurgitating PNP propaganda.


“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Commentators love to throw Mark Twain’s jibe at politicians. Yet in reality a nation’s elected representatives are its best and brightest of those willing to run for public office. And those disappointed in their parliamentarians must also be disappointed in their country. Yes it would be nice of all our representatives were brilliantly efficient paragons of virtue. But you can’t make silk purses out of sows’ ears. And if our elected representatives are indeed idiotically incompetent crooks, what does that say about we who voted them into office and from whence they sprung?


“Disband the Commonwealth” demanded a recent Observer writer, apparently forgetting it is a voluntary organization whose members can leave whenever they wish. Indeed the commonwealth’s very existence is an implicit acknowledgement that British colonial rule generally did more good than harm. Why would any country choose to be part of an association whose founding member had a mostly negative effect on its development?


A few months ago I was so incensed at not having any water for two weeks straight that I made up my mind to vote against the government that was making my life miserable. But we issue voters are a fickle lot. And having had a more or less regular water supply since then, my anger has cooled down. Not that this makes me any more inclined to vote PNP – after all regular water is something major town dwellers at least surely have a right to expect. But the burning urge to vote against the party in power has died down. (Though water has recently begun to go off at nights again and my neighbours and I are once again grumbling anti-government sentiments to each other every morning.)


A cynical friend describes the coming election as a choice between a potential Zimbabwe and a potential Argentina. For if the PNP wins we are facing 18 consecutive years of rule by a party which is already showing complete disdain for the public’s wishes. While a JLP triumph means handing the reins of government to a manifestly incompetent organization.


Carnival means calypso and soca, chipping and wining, costumes and mas. But above all it means women, for revelers are always overwhelmingly female. While Trinidadians place a lot of emphasis on carnival’s cultural aspects, from my untutored Jamaican perspective it seems in essence a celebration of the female body and spirit. And as someone who firmly believes that a beautiful woman is the strongest argument in favour of the existence of God, I am all for it.


Our next general election might be the closest since independence. And given the quirks of Westminster and our “garrison” constituency phenomenon, all sorts of scenarios are possible. Here for instance the most recent Stone and Anderson polls are extrapolated over the 1997 constituency results.