Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Editorial: New approaches to campaigning

Published:Thursday | February 11, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Jamaica Labour Party supporters look on as the police secure the area where their motorcade was attacked Tuesday, leaving one person dead.

It says something about how politics is practised in Jamaica that people exhale with relief, and consider it not a bad outcome that on a day when candidates are nominated for general election, only one person is killed - as happened on Tuesday. That lost life is one far too many, which ought not have happened.

We, of course, acknowledge the vast strides Jamaica has made in recent decades in the management of its democracy, especially with respect to reducing violence in election campaigns. Things are now a far cry from that benchmark year for political violence, 1980, when Jamaica recorded more than 800 homicides, perhaps half of them directly linked to the Cold War-infused contest. But far more can be done to remove the remnant of this scourge from Jamaica's democracy. It starts with political leaders exercising good sense, including in how they approach the nomination exercise.

This newspaper can't but uphold the right to free speech and people's right to freely associate with each other. These are critical underpinnings of democracy. But all freedoms, in their exercise, carry with them individual and collective responsibility.

We often wonder at the need for Jamaican political parties to mobilise large throngs of their supporters, usually fÍted with food and liquor, to, after long parades, attend their nominations, fully aware of the possibility for tension if opposing groups meet up. They may mingle and banter, but why create an environment for danger? Moreover, provocation need not be to, or from, supporters of the opposing side.

Tuesday's incident in North West St James provides an example of a circumstance in which these overhyped political events can spill over into violence. A few days earlier at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) rally at Sam Sharpe Square in the St James capital of Montego Bay, gunfire erupted at the meeting. Three persons were killed. Police say the shooting was linked to gang activity. At least one of the victims was a known gang member.

On Tuesday, a JLP motorcade, apparently in defiance of police instruction, drove through the community where one of the dead gang members lived. It was shot at in the vicinity of his home. One person died.

 

QUESTIONABLE WISDOM

Given Jamaica's complex, even if diminished, relationship between gangs, politics and violence, the specific motivation for these acts remain unclear, although, at first blush, it

doesn't appear to have been a cross-party issue. It is certain, however, that four persons have lost their lives in circumstances that were, at the very least, on the periphery of politics.

After the Sam Sharpe Square shooting, we questioned the wisdom of parties holding these mass rallies at venues that must pose security nightmares for law-enforcement agencies. It can't be improper for political parties, without doing violence to the right for the supporters to freely congregate, or to other tenets of democracy, to reconsider their approaches to political communication or for enthusing supporters.

It doesn't require the busing of 150,000

people to Sam Sharpe Square or Half-Way Tree Square in Kingston, or motorcades into volatile communities to inform people about policies and to elicit their votes. The alternatives are less fraught and a darned sight cheaper.