We can no longer be fooled
Low voter turnout in recent elections seems to suggest that Jamaica's democracy is at risk.

Poll after poll in recent times has revealed that the majority of Jamaicans are no longer interested in voting because neither the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) nor the People's National Party (PNP) is seen as a viable option.

Of course, what this means is that the country is likely to be governed by the will of the minority rather than the majority, which is the essence of our parliamentary democracy.

The percentage of people who voted in the 2020 General Election was 37 per cent, the lowest since 1983 when the PNP did not participate, accusing then prime minister and JLP Leader Edward Seaga of using an old voters list, leaving the country to have a one-party Parliament. In the last local government election that was held in 2016, the voter turnout was even more alarming, a measly 30 per cent. Against this backdrop, it is fair to say, as renowned pollster Don Anderson has opined, that Jamaica's democracy is at risk.

Many reasons have been posited for this apathy among the electorate, but one that has not been sufficiently explored is the perception by many Jamaicans that most politicians, in the very final analysis, have very little regard for voters.

Politicians have typically appealed to the bellies of voters rather than their brains.

It is no secret that a large swathe of the population is either semi-literate, illiterate, or somwhere in-between. As a result, many Jamaicans do not read and are incapable of thinking critically. Politicians, therefore, are of the belief that it is best to appeal to their bellies rather than their brains. Hence the view that a plate of curried goat and a bottle of beer can easily sway many to vote in a preferred way. Over time, this has become more so among the older voters, while anecdotal evidence has emerged which suggests that the younger voters prefer the "letting off" of some money. The last elections were said to be replete with vote-buying despite denials from both parties, but there is every reason to suspect that this dastardly act did take place and is likely to continue when the next local and general elections are called.

If one were to juxtapose voter apathy and vote-buying on the nation's political landscape, then it is fair to say that not only is our democracy at risk but it is also being seriously contaminated and compromised by unscrupulous politicians whose quest for power may well be leading many of them to use any means necessary to win.

What is even more frightening about this scenario is that many well-thinking Jamaicans believe that, with all these shenanigans and Anancyism going on, their vote does not really matter in the scheme of things. Perhaps that is why the minister of information, Member of Parliament Robert Nesta Morgan, was recently reported as saying that the "man in the street" has no interest in the current brouhaha surrounding the Integrity Commission but is focused on bread and butter issues. In other words, we are to assume that the average Jamaican thinks with his or her belly rather than with his or her brain? Tut, tut, Minister Morgan!

Intriguingly, although many Jamaicans perceive politicians and our political system to be corrupt, this perception has not influenced in a real way how people vote. In 2020, prior to the September General Election, both Don Anderson and the late Bill Johnson declared that based on their findings corruption was not a big-ticket item in past general elections and was unlikely to be a factor tipping the scales in one party or another's favour. Their agreed position was that no amount of finger-pointing from an Opposition is likely to win it any favours with the electorate, and voters would not turn their backs on an Administration for such a perception.

There are signs to suggest that the people are fed up and Jamaica is about to explode.

In essence, it is safe to assume that the governing JLP, despite the social media battering it has been getting in addition to mud-slinging from the wider public with respect to the perceived high level of corruption in Government, is perhaps taking comfort in the fact that this is not a bread and butter issue, so to hell with the berating and increased pressure emanating from civil society groups, National Integrity Action and Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal JAMP, etc. We are indeed in a dark place!

But are we? One of Jamaica's most revered and credible pollsters and political analysts, the late Dr Carl Stone, noted that what assisted him in being able to assess the Jamaican psyche and how John Public was thinking about national and domestic issues was his frequent visits to bars, where he mingled and chatted with the common folk. Many of our politicians who are now taking the people for granted and feel that a "let-off" or a bellyful will suffice to get them into Gordon House and Jamaica House may need to visit a few bars because, to put it bluntly, "Tom drunk but Tom no fool" anymore.

I recently listened to a farmer coming from his field, who I encountered in a country bar where I had stopped to quench my thirst. As he raised his soil-encrusted hand with a glass of "whites", he looked me straight in the eyes and said, "You look like one a dem who di prime minister will listen to. Tell him say fi stop tek wi fi idiot. We know what a gwan. Every day bucket a go a well, one day di bottom must drop out."

Needless to say, all over Jamaica there are ordinary citizens who are expressing this same view: "Dem tek wi fi idiot." There is a seething anger out there, like a volcano, because, as Bob Marley sang, "Rain a fall but di dutty tough, pot a boil but di food no nuff."

What is most worrying is that this seething anger may not necessarily find its way to the ballot box because so many fed up Jamaicans are saying neither the JLP nor the PNP appears to truly have the country's welfare at heart. Just look at the burning issue of crime, "Why can't they come together and deal with it?" they ask.

To put it bluntly, there are enough signs to suggest that this troubled country is about to explode while, according to reggae artiste Buju Banton, "our leaders play". The potent question is: What will be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 48 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lsbsmith4@gmail.com.

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