Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial: Voting in peace

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2016 | 2:00 AM

Despite still being marred by sporadic outbreaks of violence, political campaigning is a far cry from what it used to be when elections were Jamaica's version of gladiators in a Roman amphitheatre - but with guns.

In 1980, for instance, when there were more than 800 homicides in the island, perhaps half of them were directly related to that year's long campaign. Part of what has changed is the end of the Cold War and the retreat of ideology, and with it, the wide schism between Jamaica's two main political parties.

But more important to the return from the brink has been the overhaul of the electoral system, including more robust mechanisms to deal with fraud and, critically, independent people sharing with politicians in its oversight.

In two days, Jamaicans will vote in a general election for which there has been vigorous, mostly noisy, and sometimes tension-filled campaigning, with reminders that it is possible for things to return to that dark, blood-stained era.

There were those shootings at the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) rally and a subsequent separate motorcade in Montego Bay in which at least three people, in total, died. While the incidents were apparently the result of a gang feud, rather than interparty rivalry, unwise insinuations risked escalating it into a broad, violent partisan brawl.

The larger point here is that politicians, even in this last lap of the campaign, must be circumspect about what they say and how they behave lest they incite their supporters to violence. They must be measured in their response to perceived provocations instead of the exaggerations and extremism that have characterised many of the complaints from candidates of either side.

Happily, the leaders of the political movements, Portia Simpson Miller of the People's National Party (PNP) and the JLP's Andrew Holness, have consistently declared their commitment to a peaceful campaign and have called on their supporters to do likewise. They should continue to do so, as well as to urge supporters to respect the outcome of the vote, as well as commit themselves to challenging any disputed results in the courts rather than on the street.

AUTHORITY INTERVENTION

At the same time, we expect from the election authorities a reiteration of their powers to intervene in the face of threats to the fair conduct of the election and their willingness to do so. Indeed, this power of the so-called Constituted Authority to halt or suspend voting in a constituency, under specific conditions, has been a deterrent to the stealing and/or stuffing of ballot boxes, which was once a feature of elections in some constituencies.

Jamaica's democracy has come a significant way in the last 36 years. We know these days that the casting of a ballot is likely to have been by its rightful owner and that the outcome of an election represents the will of the majority rather than their substantial will thereof.

There is still an important hurdle to overcome. People must be able to vote free from fear. We can begin to mark this path over the next two days.