Portland Eastern by-election another opportunity to show political maturity

Monday, March 04, 2019

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Anecdotal evidence from elections in the recent past give support to Prime Minister Andrew Holness's prediction last Friday night that the upcoming by-election for the Portland Eastern seat will be peaceful.

In recent times it has been refreshing to see supporters of both the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Opposition People's National Party (PNP) having a good time, especially on nomination and election days, despite the trading of verbal blows between their representatives on the hustings.

This display of civility is particularly encouraging to Jamaicans who lived through the horrors of the 1976 and 1980 general elections, in particular, when political violence claimed too many lives as well as destroyed and displaced families.

It also created geographic zones of political exclusion that have not only divided many communities, but limited the ability of people to vote for the party of their choice. It was not uncommon to see graffiti in some communities warning people to enter at their own risk as the area belonged to either the JLP or PNP.

Although in many instances the graffiti have been removed, the mentality of the garrison still exists, as there are communities that continue to be fiercely loyal to either of the two main political parties, regardless of the circumstances in which residents live.

We have often argued in this space that too many of the island's politicians encourage this capacity for limited thinking among the populace by their delivery from political platforms. Instead of campaigning on issues, they frequently use stage time to engage in gimmickry and verbally thrashing their opponents.

We are not here advocating that political campaigning be divested of fun. However, what we see happening too often is politics becoming theatre rather than an intellectual discourse between candidates and voters.

To be totally fair, we have seen some attempt by a number of candidates in recent elections to discuss issues on the hustings. And kudos are due, it must be said, to the work of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica and those politicians who promoted peaceful, non-confrontational campaigning.

But those who have opted to do so are still too few, and even then they are, we are told, fearful of being perceived as boring, lacking ability to “fire up” a crowd, as if that is what elections are about.

Of course, not many individuals have the ability to arouse emotion among large audiences while holding their attention. Indeed, we are not all orators. However, we believe that if Jamaica is to achieve greater development it has to get to a place where critical thinking is accepted over buffoonery.

We must also get to the place where people seeking office are held to account for the promises they make while soliciting voter support, and where opposing views are discussed in a civilised atmosphere of respect and tolerance.

This by-election for the Portland Eastern constituency is giving the country a chance to ensure that our politics matures further and that the issues affecting people's lives are given priority attention.

Let us not waste this opportunity.

Our wish also is that the campaign is kept clean, respectful and peaceful.

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