Jamaica’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake, from all appearances and all media reports, was pleased to boast of the “uneventfulness of the day’s proceedings” on Tuesday last –– Nomination Day. That meant there were no “unusual incidents or disruptions” requiring “any use of excessive force” by the police, as 152 political candidates were nominated across Jamaica’s 63 constituencies.
So civil and accommodating was the exercise, that it took on, according to media reports, a carnival-like atmosphere that saw, in particular, supporters of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) participating in friendly banter, embracing each other with smiles and in unity, and even warmly greeting nominated candidates of their opposite political persuasion. The coverage of this most welcome turn of events will not easily be forgotten. It ought not to be.
It seemed as if exemplars of the Jamaican electorate wanted to make a point after the Sunday night fatal shootings at the JLP’s mass political meeting in Montego Bay –– to which the police could attach no political motive.
Kudos to those political party members and supporters who last Tuesday nationally demonstrated a respect for the choices of others; refrained from any meddling at the nomination stations and any other undemocratic behaviour; would be no part of offending the moral sensibilities of their fellow electors or casting slanderous and defamatory charges at one another; and abstained from violence.
Members and supporters surely do not have to indulge in any of the above activities to exercise their rights to campaigning, poster placing and recreational events to promote their party, convince voters of the advantages of their party’s programmes and positions.
Ironically, as supporters of both the PNP and JLP show public respect and amity, the leaders of both parties are at war so to speak. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has written to Opposition Leader Andrew Holness demanding an apology for remarks made by him on the same Nomination Day, and which were said to be defamatory. Mrs Simpson Miller gave him three days in which to provide a “suitably worded apology” approved by her to be publicly published.
This just when a nation known for political violence at election time would seem to have turned a new leaf. Truth be told, it is not unreasonable a charge when some critics blame political upheaval on the politicians themselves.
Here at home in Barbados, some of our own politicians by their contentious tone in Parliament and adversarial approach on the streets do little to encourage social political harmony in the society –– and they arise from both sides.
Members of Parliament, on the very basis of electoral ethics, have a duty to refrain from the conception of mayhem, incitement to fanaticsm and possible vandalism and violence, conducting the representation of their constituents –– and the nation at large –– with decorum and exemplariness.
Former Prime Minister and political leader of the Barbados Labour Party, Owen Arthur, once, not very long ago, lamented what our Parliament had come to. He held –– and probably still holds –– it was “the most poor-rakey . . . in the history of Barbados”.
He alluded to the opportunity he had to serve in a Parliament with the likes of Errol Barrow, Tom Adams, Sir Bernard St John, Sir Henry Forde, Sir Lloyd Sandiford, Sir Richard Haynes, Sir Branford Taitt, Sir Louis Tull, Sir Richard Cheltenham –– some of the finest representatives and orators in the history of Barbados, we agree. Mr Arthur suggested it was sometimes a strain on him having to go to Parliament, given the type of MP we mostly have these days.
There is no doubt our parliamentary representatives can do better. We do not ask that the acerbic wit be done away with, but the animosity, hostility and obfuscation in the constant, shouting, raving and ranting can be done without.
The Tuesday debate ought to be inviting, a must-hear as in olden times –– a healing balm, no matter what side one takes. Let us show how truly mature we have become as we approach 50 years of Independence.