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Voters reject bribes - 41% scorn efforts at vote-buying

Not every voter can be bought

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 11, 2011    

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AS the countdown to the general election continues, allegations of intensified vote-buying have surfaced, with at least one researcher pointing to more persons being offered money, food and building materials in exchange for a favourable 'X' on the ballot paper.

Reports of persons being given money and vouchers wrapped in green or orange T-shirts handed out by both major political parties to make up numbers at mass rallies, have also increased.

But in the frenzy to grab electoral support, there is some evidence that not everybody in Jamaica is willing to sell their vote to the highest bidder.

According to a 'snapshot' study done between November 23 and 30, 2011 by University of the West Indies anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle, 41 per cent, or 98 of 240 respondents surveyed said they would never take a bribe to vote.

The survey canvassed the opinions of young men and women in urban and rural Jamaica across 12 parishes, including 27 constituencies.

The respondents were grouped by age and geography, with 30 rural males between 18 and 34 years old and 30 rural males over the age of 35 interviewed. Thirty urban males between 18 and 34, and 30 urban males over age 35 were also surveyed. The same features distinguished female respondents, ie 30 rural females 18 to 34 years old and 30 rural females over the age of 35 were included in the survey. Also, 30 urban females 18 to 34 years and 30 urban females older than 35 years were surveyed.

Respondents were asked to say which of the following applied to them regarding receiving gifts from politicians at election time:

* Yes, I have, but it never affected the way I voted.

* Yes, I have, and to tell the truth, it affected the way I voted.

* Yes, I have, because none of them is any different and so I have voted for the one that pays me.

* I would vote for anyone who pays me; why not?

* I would take money from a politician, but it would not affect my vote.

* No, I have never done so.

* No, I have never done so, and never will.

The UWI anthropologist said his survey team canvassed the opinions of persons in the urban (town clusters) of Kingston, St Catherine (Portmore, Spanish Town) and St James (Montego Bay). Persons from rural town clusters in Westmoreland, St Ann, St Mary, Portland, St Thomas, Manchester, Clarendon and Trelawny were also polled.

The research team, he said, found there was evidence of vote-buying in almost all of the 27 constituencies canvassed with a marked increase since the middle of November.

But they also found that of the 240 respondents, only 37 or 16 per cent said they ever participated in vote-selling/buying.

Vote-purchasing/buying, or voter exploitation through bribes is defined as a form of electoral fraud with a similar impact as voter intimidation, misinformation, misleading or confusing ballot papers, ballot stuffing, mis-recording of votes, destruction or invalidation of votes and fraudulent counting of votes.

Gayle references vote-buying as the art of using gifts, favours or money to persuade voters to act in a way to favour a party or ultimately to vote for the purchaser.

"It is an economic contract that allows the seller to gain temporary or long-term gains... in a way to allow a politician (the purchaser) to have a better chance of winning a seat or an entire election."

The researcher noted also that some form of vote-purchasing is practised in every democratic country. However, due to severe sanctions in developed countries, the practice there is more discreet and the incidents are fewer. The problem in developing countries is that there are few or no sanctions for blatant vote-purchasing and voter exploitation through bribes.

"In developed countries, programmes are used to swing votes as election approach. Most of these practices are described as 'indirect vote-buying'. This means that they are more sophisticated and less visible," he said.

According to Gayle, in developing countries such as Jamaica, the practice of vote-purchasing is blatant, direct, face-to-face and very visible. It is also so widespread a practice that in some constituencies his research team found that more than a third (88 of 240 respondents) experienced direct face-to-face vote-buying.

Those who were 'bought' fell into three groups: those taking bribes, but not changing their voting decision; those taking the bribes and changing their votes; and those taking bribes for their votes because they didn't see any difference between the political parties.

In the first instance — those who took bribes in the past but did not change their vote accordingly — 23 persons said they accepted money and gifts from politicians at election time but it never affected the way they voted. Fifteen stated that the bribes were given by their own parties.

A rural male over 35 years old explained to researchers: "The church cannot go out and convert new souls and not watch the ones in the church. So my party make sure we feel good about them come election time."

The anthropologist said there was nothing unusual in this.

"Again, it should be no surprise that 15 or two-thirds of the 23 in this group are poor (three near poor and five middle class). Nine persons from this group are males, and 14 are females. Of critical importance here is that 19 (83 per cent) of the 23 come from environments where vote-purchasing is a common practice. In fact, only four of the 23 had never witnessed vote-buying. The trend, then, is that the vast majority of those who had witnessed vote-buying also participated. This trend continues throughout the data," he said.

Only nine persons surveyed said they have taken bribes and actually voted the way they were directed to.

Dr Gayle's researchers said seven of these persons were poor and two were middle class.

"The two middle class respondents explained that they were experiencing "hard times and the offer came. What could I do?" The reality is that vote-purchasing, while affecting the poor, mostly impacts also on temporarily vulnerable middle class persons," he explained.

In the third category, five persons in the urban poor category declared that they sold their votes because: "Wi on wi own, yow, so anything mi have to sell mi do it. Mi not loyal!"

Here Dr Gayle notes that "the Vote-Purchasing Efficacy is 38 per cent (14 of the 37 persons who took bribes from politicians have acted directly as the vote purchaser wanted). With this high degree of impact it is fair to say that the practice will continue."

The researchers tallied 57 persons — male and female — who stated clearly their intent to take political bribes but not to be affected by it. He noted also that 17 poor, 17 middle class and 23 near-poor persons gave responses of intent to "take the money because they (politicians) have it to give".

Also, new restrictions preventing cellphones and video or camera equipment from being used inside the polling booth seem to be having an effect on whether persons feel safe enough to take the politicians' bribes. Previously, persons who took the bribes had to provide political thugs with video or photo evidence showing they actually voted the way they were ordered to.

"Sir, dem have money and guess what, the EOJ say that no one cannot take phone into the voting area again, so dem cannot ask mi to show dem di vote like my cousin had to do, so mi will take the money now, but me not voting for dem," declared one respondent.

A delineation between the sexes also emerged when it came to taking politicians' money without voting the way they are told, with mostly women saying they would take money from a politician but it would not affect their vote.

Most of the respondents — 34, or 60 per cent of the total 240 persons who fell into this group — were women, said Dr Gayle.

"Interestingly, this group was not dominated by the poor, but rather the near-poor. Seven women expressed that the changes made by the ECJ allowed them greater room to take the money and vote as they wished. "Times hard, no money will be refused," some said.

Two middle class women even expressed that it may be dangerous to refuse politicians' money, "Those corrupt bastards cannot be trusted. It is better to take the money and smile than refuse it."

Also, some respondents declared that "I would vote for anyone who pay me; why not?"

In this instance, 17 poor, two near-poor, and two bankrupt, frustrated middle class persons expressed that they intended to sell their votes to the highest bidder.

According to Dr Gayle, "the Vote-Purchasing Efficacy is likely to drop to 23 per cent (17 of the 74) because of respondents' awareness that they can take the bribe and not vote due to changes made by the ECJ. This suggests that with social and legal interventions the practice can become unprofitable."

The survey data suggest that despite the evidence pointing to some Jamaicans being open to selling their votes, 43 persons in the group of 240 surveyed declared that they have never taken bribes and expressed some degree of scorn about the mere thought of doing so.

But, according to Dr Gayle, this is of no lasting comfort.

"Sadly, of this core that represents the moral fibre of our society, only 16 are poor; 40 are near-poor and 42 are middle class."

"Morals run away when you starving," explained one young man surveyed.

"The data force us to conclude therefore that the practice of vote-purchasing will continue once Jamaica continues to have a large group of poor and vulnerable, and a culture of adaptation to injustice. In this case, the adaptation seems to be negative, given that vote-purchasing reduces democracy and increases corruption, which in turn helps to maintain poverty; a circle of social ills," said Dr Gayle.

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