General election in the midst of a pandemic

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General election in the midst of a pandemic

Raulston Nembhard

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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We have now celebrated 58 years as an independent nation. Some would argue partial independence because we are still tethered to the monarchical system of our colonial masters. Until we end this charade we cannot truly say we are a proud, independent nation. Nevertheless, since 1962, we have made good strides in significant areas of national life, but there is a great deal left to be done.

After all, building a nation is a work in progress. We do the best we can with utmost sincerity and integrity with optimum concern for the welfare of others. We do not always get it right, but we have to keep on trying with a hard core ethic of personal responsibility as a constant guide.

As we seek to build our democratic way of life, we must strengthen our commitment to each other. Respect for the dignity of the life of every Jamaican must be more than the slogan or catchphrase it has become. Each person must strive to make it a reality in every sphere of their interaction with fellow Jamaicans. Building a strong and prosperous nation cannot be devoid of the care and concern that each one of us should have for the neighbour.

We are in the midst of a pandemic and campaigning for a general election. Word just came yesterday that the nation will go to the polls on September 3, 2020. As I contemplate this election season, it has come to me more forcefully that we need to have a set date for our parliamentary elections. Some people may not think that this is an important matter since there are matters in our national life that demand greater attention. I beg to differ with this sentiment. Even in Britain, from which our hybrid for parliamentary elections was derived, they have seen the sagacity of not allowing any prime minister to grandstand in setting the date for a general election. In 2011, the Parliament passed the Fixed-Term Parliament Act in which the next parliamentary election is automatically scheduled for the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election — or the fourth year if the date of the previous election was before the first Thursday in May. Outside of this fixed schedule, elections can be called if there is a vote of no-confidence in the Government, or if two-thirds of the total membership of the Commons decide on this.

This removes uncertainty from elections. Like the fixed date for the US presidential election, people know exactly when the date is and there does not have to be any guessing. Those wishing to be elected can begin preparing from day one, and no single party has an advantage as far as the date is concerned. What we have had in Jamaica is a lot of grandstanding by a prime minister who alone has the power to call the election. He is beholden to no one, not even members of his own party, although one can hardly see a prime minister calling an election without the consent of chief lieutenants in his party.

Prime ministers can use this privilege as a club to whip in line recalcitrant members who disagree with him or her. Having a fixed date leads to order and less anxiety as the guessing is taken out of it. The Clarks may look good, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, but you should not forget that fixed election dates were an integral part of your manifesto when you last sought the prime ministership. If you win this time around, we hope you will deliver on this promise.

I am also mindful that the election is being held in the midst of a pandemic. To be sure, Jamaica is not out of the woods as far as COVID-19 goes. In fact, there has been a worrying increase in the number of those infected, and there is now grave concern about the strain this may place on our already dishevelled hospital resources. It is quite clear to me that mass meetings of a past era are not on as we have to maintain the physical distancing guidelines that are instrumental in preventing infection.

Jamaicans love a general election, especially when they meet candidates on the hustings. We like to hug and laugh between glasses of liquor and having a plate of curried goat, rice and green bananas. But this is no ordinary year, as so many of us have painfully learnt. There are just some things that we have to forego, and election merriment on the hustings in large gatherings is just one of these.

The candidates must set the example. There needs to be carefully worked out protocols with the Ministry of Health and Wellness that can be adopted to make for a smooth and safe election. But people must be mindful of their own personal responsibility to contain this virus. It knows no foe and loves those who are willing to cooperate with it on its deadly trek.

The tools of technology will be employed and deployed this election year more than ever before. We can have an election with fun while observing safety in our interactions with each other. We will get through this, but we still have to do so with patience, humility, and ethical concern for the neighbour.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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