Dr Dawes' admirable courage
DAWES... I believe that our democracy is in danger with the growing voter apathy (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

THOSE who lived through it know that Jamaica's democracy came under real threat from politically motivated tribal violence in the build-up to the 1980 General Election.

Credit is due to those who retreated from the abyss in the aftermath of that election, which was overwhelmingly won by the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The toning down of ideological rhetoric and significant reform, which led to Jamaica's electoral system becoming the envy of many countries, undoubtedly played significant roles in de-escalating tribal politics.

However, as underlined by Dr Alfred Dawes — the man chosen to represent the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) in St Catherine South Eastern in the next general election — there are now renewed threats to the democracy Jamaicans have prized for so long.

He refers to the growing public cynicism towards elected officials and the electoral process, as reflected in voter apathy.

He speaks of crude, criminal vote-buying, which undermines democracy at its very core.

Regarding voter apathy, let's consider the statistics. In the 2016 General Election, which the JLP won by one seat, just 48.37 per cent of eligible electors chose to vote.

It got worse in 2020 with a 37.8 per cent voter turnout in an election which the JLP took by an overwhelming 49 seats to the PNP's 14. Even allowing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which influenced many to stay at home, that was an appallingly low turnout.

There were also troubling reports of cash gifts to electors. Crucially, the Office of the Political Ombudsman said participants in a post-election consultation referred to "instances of funds being used to improperly influence electoral choices…"

Clearly, such acts undermine public confidence in the elect of the people.

Regardless of whether the recent massive salary increases for elected politicians were appropriate or not, it seems to us that the huge public outcry was also a reflection of increasing public hostility towards them.

Against all that backdrop Dr Dawes has told this newspaper's executive editor, Mr Vernon Davidson, that he is entering politics not just to serve the immediate needs of St Catherine South Eastern but to be part of a process to restore respect for elected governance and to save his country from "an abyss".

He sees himself "as an alarm clock to try and wake up those who are slumbering peacefully while the house is burning".

He tells us that "…our democracy is in danger with the growing voter apathy; we cannot have 20 per cent of the eligible voters electing a government to rule over the next 80 per cent of us".

And further that "…the electoral process has really been hijacked by persons who can influence the outcome of a low voter turnout through money…"

Dr Dawes' courage has been tested with a death threat from those who objected to his selection as the PNP's flag-bearer in St Catherine SE, among other intimidatory acts.

Many would have backed away immediately. Dr Dawes has vowed he will not bow but will stand in defence of his principles, his party, his country, and people.

Of such stuff are heroes made. May he be an inspiration to all those with the desire to make a difference.

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