Phillips calls for urgent action to address voter apathy

Phillips calls for urgent action to address voter apathy

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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OPPOSITION Leader Dr Peter Phillips says a national response must be engineered to address the apparent apathy towards the voting process, and other issues which emerged in the September 3 General Election, such as reports of vote-buying.

Addressing the new legislature at the Jamaica Conference Centre yesterday where 60 of 63 Members of Parliament were sworn in, Phillips pointed to the continued decline in voter turnout and said a national sense of civic duty must be instilled in the electorate.

He said while the experiences in the general election should be applauded, there was also cause for some concern.

“The fact [is] that more than 60 per cent of the persons on the electoral role did not participate in the electoral process. These rights and the power to elect a Government is something that wasn't conferred on us, but won by sacrifice of life, blood sweat and tears and it is of concern that so many of our citizens now consider that these rights are of no value to them,” he lamented.

The Opposition leader stressed that he was not seeking to lay blame but that if the trend is allowed to continue unchecked, the foundations of the country's democracy could be damaged.

“There are some reports in the media that suggests 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 power,” he argued.

Dr Phillips said the decline must be reversed, that each political organisation must tackle these issues and plot mechanisms to revive the sense of civic duty among Jamaicans.

“Even as each party plays its own role there are things we might want to contemplate. In many countries there has been a deliberate effort when faced with the same trends to fashion some kind of national response — I would want to urge that the Government contemplate a similar national response, an institute of civic public education or something such as that which we could embark on in collaboration with our universities and other stakeholders,” he outlined.

He said the education ministry could also play a role but also there should be advocacy at the community level.

Meanwhile, the Opposition leader pointed out that the country is in a unique situation, facing a pandemic which has severely impacted the economy and will reverberate for some time, “This situation is a challenge not just for the Government but for the entire country, and it is going to require a vital national effort,” he remarked.

He stressed that MPs are Jamaicans first, issuing a call for unity and nationalism. “Our responsibility at the pinnacle of authority and power is to advance the cause of Jamaicans as a whole as distinct from the cause of each of our political supporters,” he stated.

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