BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS, Jamaica Observer
Declaring that he is well aware that the political silly season is approaching with elections on the horizon, Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday warned that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will be taking legal action against individuals who spread “fake news” libelling and slandering party officials in the process.
“In previous elections you would have seen propaganda. In today’s world, with social media, it is called fake news. Now, they have something called deep fake. There is a sense that this fake news can influence how you think and how you vote; and you have to ask yourself, is it right for people to tell lies and parade lies as truth to trick you to vote a particular way,” the prime minister told scores of green-clad Labourites attending the party’s Area Council Two meeting in Portmore, St Catherine.
“We have started to invest in the capacity in our party to detect and expose all the fake news that is being created and shared on social media. We know where they are coming from, and we know who are the people doing it, and as they put them up, we respond. Where they cross the lines to be slanderous or libellous we will take legal action,” the JLP leader warned.
He also advised members of his own party to refrain from engaging in such practices.
“We don’t need to spread fake news; we don’t need to trick voters to vote for us. We don’t need to be the purveyors of bad news and fake news. In just four years we have so much good news. When they go low, we will go high,” he said to cheers from supporters.
In the meantime, the prime minister warned political representatives against arrogance, noting that the party has adopted an even more forensic way of candidate selection.
“Politicians have to have big egos, but ego can be dangerous,” he told the crowd while warning against people entering representational politics for personal gain.
“This is not about letters behind your name; this is not about distributing government contracts; this is not about enriching yourself, this is about service to the people. So anyone who comes into the JLP under my leadership, anyone who joins this church must understand that they come to serve, that they come to be good stewards of the public trust,” he said.
“This party has adopted a very scientific approach to candidate selection. Gone are the days where people come to say I have been here long, or I have family roots, or I have money. Nowadays we do a profiling of the candidate and the seat… we do surveys to get an understanding of who it is you want as your candidate. We made an error in the past where we selected the persons the workers want, we have to select the person the majority of the people want,” he noted.
“We are seeing a lot of people coming wanting to be candidates. I am going to make it very clear that to join the JLP as a candidate you must fulfil the highest standards of public expectation,” the party leader said further.
Turning to the retirement of former minister, JLP deputy leader and Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Eastern Rudyard Spencer last week, the prime minister said the furore over the party’s move to call a by-election to fill the vacancy is unfounded.
“Let me thank my good friend for the many years of service to the trade union movement and the Jamaica Labour Party and the people of Clarendon. As part of the democratic process, whenever a seat becomes vacant… the Government of the day has the duty to ensure that vacant seat is filled,” Holness said.
Referencing the situation in St Ann North Eastern in 2001, he argued that when the then member of parliament resigned the seat remained vacant and was filled before the next general election was called by the then People’s National Party Government.
“I don’t want to distract valuable public time and effort in political debate that, with very little research, could easily be dismissed. Distractions! We will do everything in our power to ensure that democracy is preserved,” Holness said.
Yesterday, Robert Montague, the JLP chairman, said the party was not buying the Opposition’s claim that it would not contest the by-election.
“Our operatives have gone out in the field, we have worked, and we have gotten ready. Ruddy resign and before the PNP say dem ready, dem seh dem nah play. The duty of a political party is to win elections, and you cannot win elections unless you run elections. And if you are a political party and, rather than run election, you run from the election, yuh not a political party, you are a social club,” he charged.
“We are saying to them, we have a candidate in whom we are well pleased. Bright, smart, and hard-working. Young Pearnel Charles Junior was made after the good Lord made the first version and him wasn’t pleased, so him make the better version. He is an improved version of Pearnel Charles Senior; he is diligent, he has an eye for detail, and he is the kind of candidate we need,” Montague stated.
“On Wednesday, we are going down and we are going to nominate our candidate, and if dem change dem mind and nominate a candidate wi going to tek dem on… we going to give them a political backsiding the likes of which they don’t dream of,” he said to the delight of supporters.
“We are saying, Sister Patricia Duncan Sutherland (People’s National Party candidate), don’t run away, don’t listen to them, come nominate, we know you can afford the nomination fee, but just in case, we Labourite will collect and pay fi yuh. Wi want yuh to come, we are politicians, and we like elections, wi nuh jus’ waan young Pearnel just come in so,” Montague said.
“Nuh listen di old man dem up a Old Hope Road, dem fraid fi election ’cause Desperado know dat if him call election, when him get the loss dem a go run him weh, but we want to say to such man, nuh worry yuhself , we a go canvass an mek sure him remain president of the PNP because we have something in store fi him and when it get yah a hope dem seh it was inna di pipeline,” he said to roars of laughter.