Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Vote free from fear

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Today, nearly two millions Jamaicans can cast ballots for the government of their choice. Whether or not people choose to exercise this right, it is a guarantee they ought to cherish and protect. For this right to vote is a critical pillar of democracy,denied to many people in many countries, which can be eroded by stealth, or open, or violent attacks.When democracy falters, bad men have an easier route to ascendancy.

We feel compelled to remind ourselves of these self-evident truths in the face of the seeming attempts of dark forces, of whatever, cause to reassert themselves in Jamaican politics, whether in its centre or on its periphery. On Tuesday night, at least two people were shot and dozens more injured at a rally of the People's National Party (PNP) that was about to be addressed by its leader, Portia Simpson Miller.

The day before, a number of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters were injured by drive-by shooters at an impromptu fete at a bar in Canterbury, St James, in whose capital, Montego Bay,two persons died from a shooting after a rally of that party which was being addressed by its leader, Andrew Holness. In the aftermath of the Montego Bay shooting another person was killed when a JLP motorcade travelling in the vicinity of the home of victims of the earlier violence.

The police attributed the Montego Bay incidents to gang violence rather than inter-party rivalry and, sensibly, the PNP not ascribed blame for the shooting at its rally and has sought to stamp down, in the absence of firm evidence, any suspicion that it was politically motivated. To do otherwise could possibly incite retaliation.

There is real cause for such fears. For it is not too many years ago that political campaigns were triggers for inter-party violence in which scores, and at one time, hundreds of people died. Much has improved. We vouchsafe the integrity of the voting system. But there is residual violence in the electoral/campaign process, which may also be exploited to their own ends by criminals and gangsters, as the police suggest has happened in St James.

A PEACEFUL VOTE

Violence, from whatever quarter, that impinges on people's right to vote in an atmosphere that is free from fear, inherently means that the process can't be entirely free and fair, even though it delivers an outcome that is, broadly, in keeping with the will of the people. If those who wish to vote succumb to the intimidation of the purveyors of violence, the ground they cede, ultimately, is that of democracy. That is why we urge anyone intending to cast a ballot today, that they, even act with appropriate caution, exercise that constitutionally guaranteed franchise. In the event, political leaders, at all levels, must turn their faces hard against the incipient violence that has marred this campaign and to insist on and invest in a peaceful vote. The electoral authorities, too, must be ready, and clearly signal that they are, to exercise their power, including suspending and postponing voting in any constituency where behaviour threatens the legitimacy of the exercise.

At the same time, though campaigns have improved, there is still much work to be done on electoral reform, including on the financial transparency of political parties and the integrity vetting of the candidates they field.