Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial: Platform coarseness violates Code of Conduct

Published:Saturday | February 13, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party's Desmond McKenzie and the People's National Party's Joseph Witter walk together in West Kingston.

Dramatic scenes of party supporters from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) frolicking together at nomination day activities flashed across all media platforms earlier this week. These scenes were widely applauded by scores of peace-loving Jamaicans, and some have expressed the wish that the spirit of friendship will last even beyond the February 25 general election. Violence. Corruption. Fraud. All the evidence confirms that we have come a long way, indeed.

Then starting Thursday, political candidates have begun to sign documents to guide their conduct during the election campaigning season which will see a total of 152 candidates seeking to be elected to the nation's Parliament.

The Code of Conduct has been developed to promote peace in elections. It calls on political parties and candidates to refrain from violence and intimidation and to avoid any act that is likely to be provocative or which could increase tension between political parties. The intention is a good one.

However, signing the code is not all it takes, for a politician's profession of sincerity and passion for peace proves nothing unless there is evidence that he or she is pursing the principles set out in the code. Candidates must abide by the principles embodied in the code or risk being accused of hypocrisy.

Over the years, many of our politicians have been guilty of spouting vitriol from party platforms and engaging in name-calling and hurling abuse at their opponents. We urge politicians to lift the quality of their platform utterances and raise the curtain on a new kind of conversation that entails trying to convince voters of each party's ability to effectively and efficiently run this country. Confine criticisms to policies and programmes not to persons and desist from engaging in character assassination.

 

FUNDAMENTAL FLAW

Legitimately, some persons will question the real purpose of the Code of Conduct, since there is no mechanism to punish errant politicians for breaching the code. This may seem like a fundamental flaw. However, the electorate will get an opportunity to assess the ethical conduct and sincerity of all the candidates. Anyone who breaches the code after signing it ought to be ruled out of order. We believe the signing of the code is a small, first step to achieving a more democratic and peaceful country.

We believe that instead of engaging in shallow blame-game and name-calling, the candidates should tell the country where they stand on really important issues such as violence, replacing the monarch, capital punishment, fixing the justice system, the health crisis, climate change, making communities sustainable, and campaign financing. It's long past time for us to stop negative campaigning.

The parties are expected to roll out more media ads in the next few days, as these usually form an important part of the election campaign. Even though breaching of the code is not punishable, the political ombudsman and the electorate will be watching to see whether the signatories to the Code of Conduct will weaken the spirit of the document by making defamatory references to their opponents, or whether they will engage in crass behaviour and unnecessary squabbling.

Ultimately, there is a price to pay for deception and hypocrisy.