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Behind that unprecedented 37 per cent voter turnout

Thursday, September 17, 2020

This newspaper agrees with those who believe the problem of voter apathy is intricately linked to public perception of political representatives and how they showcase themselves.

Voter disinterest, no doubt, is front and centre of the unprecedentedly low 37 per cent voter turnout in the recent parliamentary elections which the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won 49-14.

Notwithstanding public opinion polls suggesting that Jamaicans show a certain disregard for allegations of corruption when making political choices, we are tempted to believe that such allegations do, in fact, negatively influence levels of respect for politicians and also the desire to vote.

Likewise, poor behaviour and an inadequacy of respect one to another by politicians within Parliament and outside over a period of many years have, we believe, contributed to the growing cynicism among voters.

In that regard, it helps that new Speaker of the House of Representatives Marisa Dalrymple Philibert has pledged to be fair and act in the best interest of the Jamaican people, while not tolerating crude, rude, intemperate, and indisciplined behaviour from members.

Said Ms Dalrymple Philibert: “Members of this House, we are the leaders of this nation, and as leaders we have the responsibility to lead by example. Our children, our young adults, our men and women in this blessed country of Jamaica are expecting the highest standards of conduct from us, and so Members, we will have order in this House...”

We note Prime Minister Andrew Holness's assertion that: “We can be sharp, but we don't have to be abrasive; we can be robust, but we don't have to be disrespectful and rude. And if we decided to elevate our level of representation and to truly represent the integrity and dignity and efficiency of the offices we hold, we can, by dint of that alone, re-engage and reignite in our citizens and in our voters that appetite for participation in the most important right, the right to elect your Government...”

Crucially, too, we believe, serious thought must be given to Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips's warning about what anecdotal evidence suggests is a growing feeling among sections of the populace that they should be paid for their votes.

Says Dr Phillips: “There are some reports in the media that suggest that some of those who participated considered that, in fact, the vote is something that they should give to the highest bidder, that it is something to be used for pecuniary and monetary benefit. That also is a danger, because left unchecked it means our democracy will be available to who has the most money...”

Allegations of vote-buying are not new. They go back decades. If anything, stories of cash gift-wrapped in political party-branded T-shirts and of other more subtle ways of rewarding loyalists and voters have become more commonplace in recent elections.

It seems to us that politicians on all sides, and those who fund them, cannot credibly profess ignorance or innocence in this matter of vote-buying.

Which means that efforts to restore ethical behaviour, integrity, an eschewing of cynicism and mutual respect in everyday Jamaican life as part of the drive to reignite mass participation in democratic processes become all the more difficult and complicated.