Click here to print page

Wanted: bold ideas that do not damage electoral democracy

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Globally, electoral democracy has entered an uncertain new phase, giving rise to the following concerns:

First, it is a post-truth era in which people ignore any fact that they do not like or does not fit in with their narrative. Second, politicians are abandoning the traditional norms of public behaviour, wantonly resorting to telling lies or insulting all and everyone. In fact, astonishingly bad manners is mistaken for fearlessness.

Third, politicians, in their own party, are put to the sword, in the way that Mr Boris Johnson expelled those in the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom who were opposed to Brexit. Establishing who is in charge is very important in such a way that nobody in the party dares to challenge the leader.

Fourth, taking a sufficient number of actions to please supporters, even if the consequences are dire. Additionally, nationalism is being nurtured through the belief that the country can go it alone and does not have to care about informed experts, ie denying climate change.

Fifth, seize and keep the initiative in setting the agenda for social media and then allow news media to follow. Constantly seizing the initiative, moving quickly from one topic to another before any topic can be thoroughly discussed.

What overcomes voter malaise and motivates people to vote is the politician who is prepared to say bold things and take bold actions, even if these are reckless and appeal to the extreme end of the spectrum of political philosophy.

Politicians who garner a committed following are those who appeal to the hardcore right or left, leaving the middle or undecided voters more likely not to vote because they are turned off by the extreme views of the 'bold' politician.

This trend, often described as nationalistic populism, is clearly happening in several countries all at once. Jamaica is not immune to these trends and they will be important in a year when it is likely that there will be a general election. The issue is how can the two party leaders show themselves to be the bold leaders that Jamaica wants, given that Jamaicans are exhausted with incremental progress?

How can the People's National Party's (PNP's) Dr Peter Phillips, who recently survived an internal leadership challenge, show himself to be bold? Bringing back Dr Dayton Campbell and ideas about reducing general consumption tax do not make for a bold image. He and the PNP need to articulate some big ideas that excite the voting public who want bold actions on crime, health, water, and education.

Can Prime Minister Andrew Holness do anything bold in the next six months on crime, health, water, and education that would be bold?

Much has been accomplished, such as stabilising the economy, and Jamaica has the best performing stock exchange in the world. But is that enough for the average Jamaican? What could be said and done that would be considered bold and excite the undecided voter to make up his/her mind and actually go out and vote?

Importantly, can any politician be bold and honest at the same time, while respecting the credibility of electoral democracy?