Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Editorial | Decorum in Parliament next

Published:Saturday | August 17, 2019 | 12:23 AM
Mikael Phillips

The swift and sharp condemnation of two politicians who recently made disparaging remarks about their opponents seems to suggest that Jamaicans may be losing their appetite for the kind of rabble-rousing so typical of political campaigning.

National Integrity Action (NIA) follows closely on the heels of the private-sector leadership in criticising two officers of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), Vice-President Mikael Phillips and Deputy General Secretary Basil Waite, for their outbursts on separate political platforms.

The men were also roundly criticised by commentators and persons on social media. Obviously, the steady stream of criticisms helped to force half-hearted apologies out of Phillips and Waite.

We hope this level of public scrutiny will become even more acute as we head towards a general election which is constitutionally due by 2021. Even though political parties and their candidates have signed codes of conduct, this has not prevented them from flouting the decorum guidelines and disregarding the norms of behaviour expected among political combatants.

We feel strongly that the next target must be the nation’s Parliament. Far too often, political leaders display a lack of decorum and civility when they speak in debates, and instead of directing their remarks through the speaker, they go off on rants impugning the motives of those on the other side. Sometimes they are even engaged in shouting, hissing and booing.

Ridicule and name-calling so often heard in the House may have turned off some people and may even have contributed to the level of apathy towards politics. We submit that more focused debates conducted with dignity and decorum could win back some people who have snubbed the political process.

Showing respect

Rowdiness and character assassination, as we frequently hear in the House of Representatives and the Senate, should end. Instead, members should be able to make their contribution in an environment of mutual respect.

Of note is the fact that, overwhelmingly, our Parliament has been populated by men. And there are some who would minimise the seriousness of these outbursts as typical raucous boys’ club behaviour. However, the maturing citizenry appear to have had enough of it, and mostly find such behaviour ugly and demeaning.

Coarseness and crassness are not unique to Jamaican politicians. The current US president, Donald Trump, is noted for hurling insults at his rivals, and his utterances have prompted calls for greater civility in American politics. Meantime, the British Parliament seems always to have members viciously lashing out at each other.

The crudity exhibited by politicians not only influences their opponents’ responses but can affect others looking on. These slights and insults can incite violence among party supporters. They can also spill over into society. There is no denying that incivility has become a pervasive social problem.

Young people looking on at parliamentary debates are being given the impression that to win an argument, one must be boisterous and engage in ad hominem attacks. That, of course, would be the wrong message.

Maybe the time has come for a review of the decorum rules and the introduction of stronger sanctions for members who disregard these rules. Jamaica is beset by myriad problems. What is needed at the parliamentary level are factual, meaningful debates that are oriented to solving citizens’ problems.