October 21, 2020

Constitutional reform and political violence

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mario_bootheBy Mario Boothe From Caribbean News Now

My grandmother, affectionately called , often when an election is imminent recalls her younger days having lived through the 70s before now called ‘bloody general election of 1980s’ and the immediate aftermath.

Mama had packed her bags and headed to the urban capital of Kingston trying to escape the low living standards of rural Jamaica. Unfortunately, like many other Jamaicans and their families that settled in the urban areas for employment opportunities, they were forced to return. Some went back to the deep rural areas; others fled the island completely, seeking refugee from the violence.

In the immediate post independent Jamaica there was much hope for the nation economically and politically. However, local politics was not spared the ideological rift created by the turn in world affairs that divided east and west and led to a showdown between communism vs capitalism.

The entire ordeal of the violent period led to creation of armed garrison communities, with assigned gangs to watch over these political territories held by the socialist People’s National Party() and the capitalist Jamaica Labour Party ().

Their level of control over these political gangs has weakened over time as the spoils of corruption withered. Without a doubt, the dog is now walking the master, as Jamaica grapples with a high murder rate and generally accepted lawlessness at all levels of society.

But the JLP and PNP have not completely severed their bonds to the undesirables and continue to foster garrisons to serve the ultimate goal of gaining power. This power is granted to them by the constitution of Jamaica, with democratic processes that have proven themselves to be outdated and unsuited for the Jamaican political reality.

Constitutional reform must serve to sway us away from the current outlay of garrisons, power struggles, political tension, under-representation, and exclusivity of governance. With modern checks and balances, like the separation of powers, term limits and fixed election dates to ensure quality representation of the people.

Also empowering the people to interact with system beyond a five-year election cycle in form of recall and impeachment will generate thought beyond party line.

But the general structure of the Jamaican constitution has maintained its shape for over 50 years without much interest in its transformation for the most part.

Jamaica’s political parties have a vested interest in the status quo and refuse to relinquish powers, although they have stated many times before their intention to implement these reforms. But with one third of parliament above the retirement age of ’65’, they practically crafted the current system and will not depart from it.

Hence, the younger post independence political representatives and their corresponding voting bloc will be the ones to create the difference.

We are now aware that the political violence monster was merely dormant and still lurks beneath surface of the parties’ membership and support, after two persons were recently killed in politically motivated circumstances, stemming from illegal placement of flags.

I commend civil society leaders on responding quickly to the incident by demanding both parties to take an anti-violence stance. But civil society must see constitutional reform as an utmost priority as we begin in earnest to exorcize our past demons and curtail any future political violence.

Indeed, these reforms are not just for the politicians but maybe more importantly to send a clear message to their grassroots supporters, peaceful and ‘undesirable’ elements that it’s no longer about ‘party first’ or ‘colour first’ in the journey to ‘win a seat’ for power sake but rather it’s representation first, a vote must be earned not bought or given because of allegiance.

The gangs and dons of parliament must now prove themselves ready to leave the 70s behind and diminish their own powers as a signal of maturity and change, so that Mama’s grandson doesn’t give her a heart attack the next time he decides to wear orange, green or any colour of the rainbow.

mario_boothe.jpg Mario Boothe is a young governance advocate, blogger and activist, a governance watchdog group

For more on this story go to: http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/headline-Commentary%3A-Constitutional-reform-and-political-violence-28651.html

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