Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Jamaica's Jostle With Democracy

We are almost at D day-well, E day for the alphabet-conscious. The pollsters are busy and the major political parties are caught up in the last days of election campaigning from Morant to Negril Points as the nation goes to the polls on February 25 to elect a new government; a government which will be responsible for chartering the future of Jamaica.  Election is oftentimes referred to as the silly season; however, an election is a serious exercise of citizen engagement and participation in the political process in which a selected number of candidates are given the task making legislation to govern the wider society. Disturbingly, over the years more and more Jamaicans have become disengaged and have been turned off by the divisive nature of politics in Jamaica. As a result the base support of both major political parties continues to dwindle while conversely the percentage of the swinger voters continues to increase. Recently, a number of critical issues have come to the fore which has added substance to the political discourse. The integrity of all our candidates is of utmost importance. The issue of declaring one’s assets whether held in or outside of Jamaica should be mandatory for all candidates who seek political representation.  The Representation of the Peoples Act should be amended to ensure that if a candidate is proven to have coloured the truth, he/she should be struck off the Nomination list. Additionally, all manifestos of competing political parties should be made available to the general public at least two weeks prior to a general election. All manifestos should be available online and should also be in Braille to facilitate those members of the society who are sight impaired. While I agree that having debates is not the only way in which issues can be discussed, having debates have become commonplace for leading democracies even dictatorships to have leadership debates. It is a fallacy to think that participation in a public debate is a favour which our political leaders are granting the populace.  Leadership debates should be a must for any Jamaican who has the desire to be the head of government.  It is very disappointing that the issues of human rights for all Jamaicans, as well as, gender-based violence are not being addressed during this election campaign.  In any society democracy is further weaken without the inclusive human rights for all.
The parliamentary term ended on a low note without the issue of campaign financing getting a chance to be debated. He who pays the piper calls the tune. The time has come for the electorate to know who the big financiers of our major political parties are. I urge the next parliament to immediately address the issues of campaign finance as well as term limits for members of the Legislative arm of government.  Finally, there is a real value to be had for our democracy and the democratic process by the participation in political debates. We need to soften the political culture which presently does more at alienating our people than bringing us together. Our politicians owe the Jamaican people at least this much. In the words of Woodrow Wilson “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy”.
Wayne Campbell