The maturing of the electoral process

Friday, December 30, 2011

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YESTERDAY'S polling in our 16th general election since 1944 marked, in our view, the undoubted maturing of the Jamaican electoral and political processes.

Indeed, we have come a far way from the 1960s when there were widespread charges of gerrymandering, and the 1970s and 80s marked by political violence and electoral fraud such as bogus voting, ballot stealing and over-voting.

From one end of the island to the next, the reports were of incident-free voting. The problems encountered were nothing more than the familiar ones of late opening of some polling stations and glitches of voting equipment, particularly in the eight constituencies where the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS) was rolled out — in Eastern St Catherine, West Central St Andrew, South East St Andrew, Eastern St Andrew, Central Kingston, and Western St Andrew, with partial implementation in North West St Andrew and North Central St Andrew.

The local and international observers, including the Organisation of American States (OAS) mission and the Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), had little to do, and this augurs well for our international image as a democratic country which changes governments peacefully. We believe that this will factor in the decision of investors when they are choosing where in the world to put their money.

In this regard, we extend heartiest congratulations to Professor Errol Miller and the members of Electoral Commission of Jamaica, as well as Mr Orette Fisher, the director of elections, and his hard-working team at the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ). Theirs was a job well done under difficult circumstances.

Perfection would not have been expected, especially as it is the first time that the EOJ was conducting elections in 63 constituencies, after adding three new ones — two in St Catherine and one in St James.

We are pretty clear in this space that the contribution of the two major political parties — Mr Andrew Holness' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Mrs Portia Simpson Miller's People's National Party (PNP) was central to the achievement of peaceful elections.

That, in large measure, would also suggest that they have appreciated the yearning among the populace to put the old days behind and embark on a politics of good sense.

If this is sustained going forward, the high level of cynicism engendered by the old politics will, over time, recede and we are likely to see more people taking interest in the voting process. Far too many people stayed home yesterday in what is one of the lowest turnouts in a general election here.

Most importantly, however, the Jamaican people are the ones to be truly congratulated. It is they who have borne the brunt of the agony and were the main victims of the tribal politics that took Jamaica to the brink of being a failed state.

Special congratulations to Mrs Simpson Miller who has received her first mandate from the Jamaican people and who must be feeling that her perseverance after the 2007 loss has paid off. It is her job now to move quickly to unite the country and focus its energies on the arduous task at hand.

For his part, Mr Holness has tasted what defeat is. However, he can console himself that he gave the JLP a chance, if fleeting, and a hope of victory after the party trailed badly in the polls for all of the past year. He has, perhaps, saved the party a far worse beating.

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