Columns

Four 7s and the constitution

Michael
Burke

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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Last Friday, Juy 7, 2017, was the 40th anniversary of the day when the “four 7s clashed”. Oral folklore had it that Marcus Garvey had prophesied all kinds of violence to happen on that day and that “heads would roll down King Street”, among other things. However, there is no official record that Garvey ever said any such thing.

Michael Manley who was prime minister at the time, was not a churchgoer by any means, but he evidently read and understood biblical symbolism, hence the use of the clashing four 7s (July 7, 1977) to announce constitutional reform.

It was on the Feast of the Passover that Jesus Christ held “the Lord's Supper”, also known as the Last Supper. It was on the fruit festival known as Pentecost (50 days) that the Holy Spirit came down on the believers, which was the birth of the Church. And the Roman Catholic Church used events in Roman culture to establish Christmas Day and the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter).

Norman Manley also understood biblical symbolism. His original intention in abolishing the British Empire Day public holiday, which was on May 24, was to replace it with National Labour Day. The change to May 23, instead of May 24, came when David Clement Tavares, then an Opposition Member of Parliament, suggested May 23 as an amendment, because Sir Alexander Bustamante established his trade union on May 23, 1938.

Similarly, I have suggested that the name of the December 26 public holiday should be changed to 'Family Day'. Boxing Day was when the second-hand things were boxed and given to servants, separately from the garbage. But it is not wise to take away a public holiday. So why not keep the holiday and rename it 'Family Day', since families meet at that time anyway and, in Jamaica, good family life needs to be emphasised.

Though Michael Manley used the day when the four 7s clashed to launch constitutional reform it still has not happened 40 years later. But Michael Manley is not to be blamed in this matter. He was not the person who played politics with constitutional reform.

On the day of the launch of constitutional reform on July 7, 1977, the march led by Paul Bogle from Stony Gut to Morant Bay, a distance of seven miles, was re-enacted by hundreds. I took part in that march from Stony Gut to Morant Bay before listening to Michael Manley launch constitutional reform in front of the Morant Bay courthouse.

Michael Manley said that he wanted a simply written document. He did not want a lawyer to write it. Everyone should be able to understand it and it should be in a small book that could hold in someone's pocket. And Jamaica was to become a republic.

The discussions right across the country were to go on for the three years, between 1977 and 1980. It was to involve just about every Jamaican with a viewpoint. The type of republican status would be decided upon, whether an executive or ceremonial presidency.

There was to be a referendum in 1980 and, assuming a 'yes' vote for republican status, the constitution was to change in 1981.

Edward Seaga, who argued for a type of ceremonial presidency, stated his views in his budget speech in 1977.

But crime and violence got worse and the discussions that took place were by no means extensive. At that time, most people were afraid to leave their homes at night.

On February 3, 1980 Michael Manley announced that as soon as he was advised that the voters' list was ready he would be calling a general election. In the same radio and TV broadcast, Manley said that constitutional reform was being postponed until after the election.

After the bloody campaign period, where more than 700 individuals lost their lives, the Jamaica Labour Party was voted into power and Edward Seaga became prime minister. No more was heard about constitutional reform until 1989 when the PNP returned to power and Michael Manley was once again prime minister.

Then came the whole saga regarding the Caribbean Court of Appeal. No party controls two-thirds of the Senate as there are 13 Government senators and eight Opposition senators. For the constitution to be changed it will require the two-thirds vote of both houses. The Jamaica Labour Party threatened to boycott the vote to change to republican status if there was no referendum on the Court of Appeal.

And this summarises the reasons that, after 40 years, Jamaica still has the same constitution that it was granted by Britain when political independence was sought in 1962.

P J Patterson spoke to constitutional reform, as did Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness. Bruce Golding gave his views on republican status long before he became prime minister. But nothing has happened in this regard.

It is my view that the 'red herring' drawn by the Jamaica Labour Party to stop the change to republican status was totally unnecessary. I have opined before that a referendum would need rules that are different from what obtained in 1961, when the referendum issue was about remaining in the Federation of the West Indies.

In those days street meetings were the main tools used for political campaigns. With a relatively uneducated populace, Bustamante manipulated the voters by not even mentioning the federal issue. He spoke about the national stadium, then under construction, being a waste of money. Likewise, he used the spend on the then new Ministry of Education building and the development of Negril for tourism as talking points away from the central issue.

So the 1961 referendum was really a farce. I suspect that this is a tactic that the Jamaica Labour Party wants to repeat as politicians will be politicians. True, republican status cannot feed hungry bellies — as the late Wilmot “Motty” Perkins said. But today both political parties know that it would be a great psychological boost in allowing Jamaicans to think in terms of controlling our own destiny.

More important, I believe we need to change from the Westminster model of democracy to proportional representation. The Westminster model does not work in Jamaica, where housing is used to create garrison constituencies with all of its attendant consequences. This is our reality.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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