Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Respect Your Vote - Your Right, Your Responsibility

Published:Thursday | October 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMDorothy Pine-McLarty, Contributor

The following are excerpts of a speech by chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), Dorothy Pine-McLarty, at last Wednesday's town hall meeting at the Manchester High School.

Given the apparent season we are in, it is appropriate to focus a little on the theme of this town hall meeting: Respect Your Vote: Your Right, Your Responsibility.

As a people, we must take this seriously. This is not about blind partisan support. It is about participating in an important part of the democratic process. It is about participating in the political, social and economic advancement of our country. Let us all begin to look at the bigger picture as we map a prosperous future for our country and its people.

Too many of us have opted out of the electoral process, and, by extension, out of the democratic process. This is reflected in the unacceptable level of voter apathy in the society, especially among the youth and the middle class.

We can't be happy about this. In the 1970s and 1980s, voter turnout peaked in the region of 80 per cent. Today it is in the 50s and 60s; and even less for local government elections.

This has jumped the rank of the uncommitted block or 'won't vote' category. In a June 2015 national survey commissioned by the RJR Group and conducted by Market Research Services Ltd, 32 per cent of the voting population said that they would not vote if an election were called today; 14 per cent said that they were unsure; and another eight per cent said that they were somewhat unlikely to vote.

Although globally there has been a growth of electoral non-participation, these are statistics that no one should be proud about; not the political parties; not civil-society groups; not the church; not the middle class or the upper class; not the business community; and not us at the ECJ.

Town hall meetings like this one can help to highlight and emphasise the importance of the electoral process and the role of democracy in helping to improve quality of life in a modern liberal democracy. I believe it is time for professional organisations like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica; service clubs like the Rotary and Kiwanis; civil-society groups like Jamaicans for Justice; business associations like the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, and socialisation organs like the Church, begin to see themselves as part of the solution to the problem of voter apathy in Jamaica.

This is not about the PNP, the JLP of the NDM. This is about building a better Jamaica for the benefit of all.

As we inch towards another general election, we must remember that we have come a long way in terms of cleaning up the system and returning confidence and trust in Jamaica's electoral process.

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) is the vanguard of the system. It ensures that all elections are free and fair; it ensures that no unfair advantage is given to any party or individual contesting an election; it ensures that each elector votes without interference or intimidation. It guards against wrongdoings during elections. We commit to ensure that any future election is conducted with the highest level of professionalism, run by a well-trained team at every level. This is our promise to you, the people of Jamaica.

We must keep this promise, and do everything to fix existing concerns, such as funding of political campaigns, if we are to continue to strengthen the democratic process and stamp out deep-rooted problems like corruption.

Democracy is not an abstract; it is important for the transformation of a society, a nation, a country. In order to ensure that democracy stays healthy and in good shape, each and every one of us as Jamaicans has to become active.

When, as citizens, we stand up and speak out against corruption we are helping to strengthen and deepen democracy. The authorities cannot fight the problem without the help of the people. We must get off the fence and get involved.

When you demand transparency, accountability and fair play, you are helping to strengthen and deepen democracy. Transparency and accountability are both essential parts of citizen participation so let us insist on this in everything that we do as a people. The authorities will not be inspired to promote transparency and accountability without the consistent urgings and demands from the people of this country. We must get off the fence and get involved.