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Editorial: Faith in our democracy, but …

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Whatever may be Jamaica's problems - and there are many - it has a significant strength: institutions of democracy that are sound. They have fallen under stress and have bent, but never break. When Jamaicans vote for their government, they know, with a high degree of certainty, that the outcome reflected the will of the people.

We don't expect it to be any different on February 25 when electors cast ballots in the 17th general election since universal adult suffrage more than seven decades ago. But our confidence is not an assertion that there are no threats in times like these.

Indeed, it is a sobering memory that in an election period 35 years ago that more than 800 Jamaicans died violently, with a large portion of those deaths, and perhaps the majority, directly linked to a campaign. Much of the trigger for that kind of political violence has dissipated. Not least of these is the ideological schism of the Cold War era, as well as the real advantage one side or the other might have gained by the commandeering, and stuffing, of ballot boxes.

Yet, there has been some residual violence in Jamaican politics and passions tend to be inflamed during campaigns. The murder of a woman, with an apparent reprisal in Portmore, St Catherine, late last year, allegedly over the hanging of political flags, is a case in point. It is against that backdrop that we reflect, first, on two points about this campaign.

The first is that the formal period of the campaign will be relatively short, which is not to discount the months of mobilisation by the two major parties since the governing People's National Party (PNP) signalled its intent to go the polls well ahead of the completion of its five-year term. From the dissolution of Parliament on February 5, it will be four days to the nomination of candidates and merely 20 days to the vote - or, roughly, the minimum period to legally complete the exercise.

Getting the election out of the way quickly will, hopefully, remove what the private sector has claimed to be distractions to doing business, although the stalling of investments and other economic decisions seems to have been less of an issue in this election cycle than previous ones. Further, the shorter campaign period provides less time in which potential political misbehaviour can create mischief.

 

INFORMATION AND CLARITY

Second is Prime Minister and PNP President Portia Simpson Miller's call, during her announcement of the election date, to eschew violence, even if provoked. Similar sentiments have come from the platforms of the main Opposition, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), including its leader, Andrew Holness. These are sentiments that ought not only to be declared, but meant, consistently reiterated, and enforced. For, as Mrs Simpson Miller indicated, after the election, for whichever party people voted, there will remain one Jamaica and a government representative of all the people - which, unfortunately, is too often a forgotten piece of our politics.

Finally, but important, we will look forward to a campaign based on ideas of substance and specifics, rather than ethereal or woolly notions, especially in the area of economic policy and management and Jamaica's relationship with external partners. After four years of economic reform, people should have a decent idea of where the PNP stands. It's time for hard information and clarity from the JLP.