Jamaica’s Political Families

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Political families in Jamaica

By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

Political Families a Global Norm?

In the USA they have the Kennedys, the Bushes and the Clintons.

Before them, there were the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts.  In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta set the trend for his son Uhuru. Pierre Trudeau’s achievements in Canada ushered in Justin’s outstanding win last year.  Over in Haiti there were the Duvaliers – Papa Doc and Baby Doc. The less said about them, the better for that beleaguered country. Antigua became known as ‘Bird land’ after decades of V.C. Bird at the helm of his Antigua Labour Party which he bequeathed to son, Lester.  In Jamaica, well, it’s complicated.

Jamaica – A Complicated Norm

Prime Minister Simpson-Miller has talked about her parliamentary cousins, namely her appointees MP Natalie Neita-Headley who covers the Sports portfolio on the PM’s behalf and MP Noel Arscott, Minister of Local Government. On the opposite side of the political fence is the PM’s cousin, MP Everald Warmington. But let us flashback a bit.

Jamaican politics were born out of family relations. Sir Alexander Bustamante and his cousin Norman Manley, both now national heroes, laid the foundations of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and of the People’s National Party (PNP), respectively. Norman’s son, Michael, became Jamaica’s most popular and world-known Prime Minister. Michael married Beverley. But hold that point for a while and allow me to fast-forward.

Less straightforward present-day political families include persons like the PNP General Secretary Paul Burke who is first cousin to MP James Robertson and husband to Kingston’s Mayor and PNP Senator, Angella Brown-Burke. Of note is that Paul and James, though close cousins, do not support the same political party.

Families Contesting Elections 2016

In 2016 the evidence of political dynasties in Jamaica has become even more evident. There are the father and son Members of Parliament team of Peter Phillips (Finance Minister) and son Mikhael, both now actively campaigning to retain their seats. Long-standing MPs, Pernell Charles and Derrick Smith have ushered in their sons as constituency caretakers, obviously grooming them to ‘take over’ when their retirement age fathers pull out of representational politics; Fathers passing on their political batons to their sons. As Charles Jnr. noted in a February 17, 2016 television interview, “It’s my life, it’s all I know.”

But perhaps the most interesting political dynasty in Jamaica is yet to unfold come February 25, 2016. Dr. D.K. Duncan, sitting MP and former Minister of National Mobilization under the Michael Manley 1970s regime, has launched his two daughters, Patricia and Imani into the political foray. Now let me get back to the point re Beverley, Manley’s former wife. She is now the wife of Dr. D.K. Duncan. Beverley is no political neophyte. Additionally, she was a leading figure in the women’s movement in Jamaica. So her step-daughters are well-armed to win.

I almost forgot the Holnesses, Andrew and his wife Juliet. Many were shocked at the news that Juliet Holness, wife of Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, was about to enter representational politics. Juliet was Campaign Manager for Alexander Williams who was running the seat for St. Andrew East Rural. On his departure from the race about three months ago, she jumped in and won the approval of the party to contest the seat. Juliet is up against Imani Duncan-Price. Despite DK’s political savvy and with Beverley by his side, it is still anyone’s bet who will win the seat.

Alma Mock-Yen

I credit radio stalwart, Alma Mock-Yen, a woman well into her 80s who has taken Facebook by storm, for piquing my interest in the subject of families in politics. As someone who called himself ‘Colin Creative’ in response to Alma’s Facebook post wrote, “I see nothing wrong with family members going into the business of politics. I say business because that is what it is….If your child or children think your profession is noble enough for their entry, then they should and politics should be no exception.”

Historic Elections?

As Colin Creative further noted, “I am not aware of any precedence of a husband and wife team serving at the same time, at least not in Jamaica.” Election watch 2016 is on in full flight. It could be historic on many levels for the island of Jamaica.

Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Caribbean Institute of Media & Communication, University of the West Indies, Mona. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.

Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes