Notre Dame fire and Jamaican politics


Thursday, April 18, 2019

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Today is Holy Thursday on the Christian calendar. Holy Week began last Sunday (Palm Sunday) and ends on Holy Saturday (the day after tomorrow).

Easter Sunday in the Western world is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the first day of spring, March 21). Two days before that is Good Friday and 45 days before that is Ash Wednesday.

All Sundays are celebrated as feasts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so the five Sundays during the season do not count in the 40 days of Lent.

When the Christians arrived in Rome the citizens worshipped Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring at the first full moon after March 21. Spring to those pagans represented “new life” as it was always the time when the trees would bear fruits after a long, cold winter.

So the Christians in Rome celebrated the feast of the resurrection on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21) to equate it with spring or a new life as Jesus's resurrection was His new life.

In this period of reflection this year the disastrous fire that destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in France occurred in the Monday of Holy Week. At this time in our history many speak of post-Christian Europe, and the reducing numbers of Christians, particularly in the Western world, no doubt caused in part by the sex scandals among clergy in recent times.

In such a scenario it is heartening to see the outpouring of grief and sympathy for this holy place of worship and, perhaps, many pray that this will bring about a restoration of Christianity. At least I hope so.

Here in Jamaica, we need a restoration of Christian principles starting with our politicians.

The circumstances surrounding both Christmas and Good Friday have their parallels in Jamaica in our political history. In the Christmas narrative Joseph and Mary went to Nazareth to find lodging for the census to be taken. If modern technology was around then, would they have invented a national identification system (NIDS) such as the one the Jamaica Supreme Court threw out last Friday? In making such a decision, I am grateful that the chief justice was confirmed in his post and is no longer acting chief justice when he was told by the prime minister that confirmation would be determined by performance.

Michael Manley certainly had his Palm Sunday. But the signs of his Good Friday, which came in 1980, were there from 1976.

The People's National Party (PNP) won 47 seats out of 60 in 1976, but the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which only won 13 seats, polled more votes than it had ever received in a general election before. The same was true of the 1959 General Election when the PNP, led by Norman Manley, had an overwhelming majority of seats but the JLP received its largest-ever amount of votes up to 1959.

In this vein, in the Portland Eastern by-election, Damion Crawford who lost, but received more votes than any other PNP candidate in the history of the constituency is significant, especially as I believe Crawford did so with far less resources than were available to Ann-Marie Vaz.

Indeed, the only candidate to have topped the score of either Ann-Marie Vaz or Damion Crawford in Portland Eastern was Anthony Abrahams in 1980, when he received 10,196 votes. But it does signify that the PNP is starting to repair its dilapidated political engine.

And this is why I do not believe that Andrew Holness will call a snap election. Most opinion polls projected a landslide for Vaz, which did not materialise, despite her victory.

Last week there were some comments online under my Jamaica Observer column that, again, make me wonder if some readers respond before reading properly. I commended Damion Crawford for polling more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, but I also congratulated Ann-Marie Vaz as I always do for winners in elections.

Portland voters always go for popular candidates. The PNP knows this, and therefore selected candidates in the last 30 years who won mainly on their own popularity, even with the weakening organisational engine. The JLP had a popular candidate this time, brought out their dormant voters, and won.

Two other readers apparently ignored my last paragraph and proceeded to transfer blame on Peter Phillips because he was in the previous PNP Cabinet when certain things occurred. But Phillips was not prime minister — a point many Labourites made when there were JLP leadership changes from Hugh Shearer to Edward Seaga, from Seaga to Bruce Golding, and from Golding to Andrew Holness.

In the gospel narratives the crowds were used by the Pharisees, who felt that their leadership positions were threatened by Jesus Christ. They whipped up the crowds to say “Crucify him” using the lame excuse before King Herod and Pontius Pilate that he had made himself into a king.

I asked last week, and I ask again, who are the Pharisees in the PNP that were whipping up the PNP rank and file against Peter Phillips because they want the PNP presidency for themselves?

Uniforms sales or order?

Putting the taxi drivers in uniform is an excellent idea for order and discipline, but is the need for order and discipline the real reason, or the excuse? Is it to give clothes merchants who are party donors a chance to sell some clothes? Yellow or even blue shirts, like the bus drivers, would be a better choice, and perhaps brown for the trousers. Certainly, white shirts for taxi drivers are impractical in a tropical country.

Is it that some of merchants who contribute to campaign funds have a glut of black pants and white shirts that cannot be sold which taxi drivers are now forced to buy? Can a parallel be drawn between the taxi drivers' uniforms and the used cars imported for the police?

Have a Holy Easter.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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