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Ugly side of party politics

Antoinette Connell

Ugly side of party politics

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This is probably my first and only “political column” of sorts since I tend to stay away from that hotbed that leads big people to abandon logic and, in a lot of cases, common sense.
But I was pushed into this article after a recent incident in the midst of our “election fever” left me rattled.
It took me back to the year I spent as a student in Jamaica in the 1990s and some of the out-of-class lessons I learnt. Call it ragging, hazing or what you will, but Irvine Hall freshers had to go through that “welcoming” process which appeased the seniors’ need to appear in charge while introducing the foreign students to the island’s culture.
During orientation we were decidedly warned about wearing the wrong colours. Something as simple as just throwing on a shirt could put you in harm’s way.
The diehards take their political affiliation very seriously and will set upon the opposition without encouragement, it has been my observation. The political divide in Jamaica leaves no room for compromise or wavering.
For the sake of that almighty vote, some politicians will align themselves with some of the most vicious criminals. In Jamaica it is the “dons” or drug lords who maintain the loyalty of districts by providing the barest of sustenance to residents.
The grateful lot in return will do almost anything for their master, whose role it is to tell them how to vote.
The situation has created fiefdoms, none more so than the forbidden territory of Tivoli Gardens, considered a law unto itself.
Some years after my student days I returned to Jamaica to be confronted with the full-blown effects of the influence the dons exerted over the districts. The police had occasion to arrest a don known as Zeeks, and that started a near riot in Kingston.
The only thing that managed to quell that unruly lot was for the police to take Zeeks out on the balcony of the police station so that his loyal subjects could see that he was well. With the threat of greater violence hovering, Zeeks commanded his subjects to “cease and settle” and the violence abated.
That was nothing compared to the Dudus Affair more than a decade later. Both men remain incarcerated, Zeeks on a double murder in Jamaica and Dudus for cocaine smuggling in the United States.
Situations of this kind cannot be good for any nation.
Therefore, at the very first signs, they must be nipped in the bud.
This takes me back to my original point. There is an unsettling trend at local political meetings for speakers to call out those present who they believe are not sympathetic to their parties. They rile up those in attendance to the extent that some start to curse and threaten the perceived “enemies”.
Recently, a speaker at a meeting, having an axe to grind with the Nation Publishing Company, transferred that ire to the assigned reporter indicating to the crowd that the reporter was present and calling on her to identify herself.
He was playing to the crowd, but all it would have taken was one idiot to feed upon his perceived anger and take it out on the journalist.
Two pregnant reporters, from different organizations, were at the meeting. They could have suffered injury as a result of the irresponsible behaviour on the part of the speaker.
He and others like him who engage in this kind of petty point-scoring with the crowd are creating explosive situations. There is no room in local politics for such a divide when families are so entwined.
There was once a picture published of the relatives of competing cousins Haynesley Benn and Owen Arthur existing side by side. There was not a hint of animosity between the families.
Isn’t that the way it is done here? Let’s forget the political divide. We’ve seen where it can lead.
•  Antoinette Connell is the DAILY NATION Editor. Email [email protected]