Sun | Oct 22, 2017

That noisy silence

Published:Monday | March 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMGarth Rattray

 

My disappointment with the recent general election is that only 870,663 out of 1,824,000 eligible voters (47.7 per cent) exercised their franchise. Universal adult suffrage is a hard-fought right, not just a privilege reserved for the fortunate few in our society. But, with that right, with that power comes responsibility. We now have the responsibility to use that power to help choose who we allow to govern us.

After voting on February 25, I travelled to the north coast for most of the day. I encountered and interacted with many individuals and took notice of the conspicuous absence of the tell-tale residual purple ink on their right index finger.

Over the following few days, I also made the effort to ask people if they voted. Although anecdotal, my little investigation revealed that, of the people that I quizzed, only very few voted.

The reasons for not voting were given as:

* Hadn't updated their voters' ID for many years.

* Registered to vote far away from where they now live and work.

* Couldn't bother to take public transport.

* Couldn't bother to ask someone to transport them to the polling station.

* Just couldn't bother to vote.

* Not motivated to vote for either side.

* Demotivated to vote for any side.

* Badly turned off from any participation in anything to do with politics.

* Strongly believes that the political parties are six of one and half-dozen of the other, so what's the point?

* Disappointed in the leadership of both parties.

* Tired and upset at Mama P's stewardship and election-time antics but refuses to support the other side.

* Felt slighted, disrespected and taken for granted by politicians.

* Not going to mix up with any 'crebbeh-crebbeh'.

* Only 'buttu' run things, so 'leff it gi dem'.

The interesting thing is that many of the silent majority loudly and constantly complain about this, that and the other. Many of them have a lot to say about how the country has been run by both political parties and they voiced their discontent with consummate verve and passion.

A female patient of mine animatedly criticised several ministries as she enumerated the long list of ills perpetrated by people in power. Her voice climbed several octaves as she recounted her unpleasant experiences and proffered practical solutions to some of our social problems.

Amid her veritable blur of hand movement, I saw an obvious absence of ink on her finger. I could not camouflage my shock and utter disbelief and it just flew out of my mouth, 'YOU DIDN'T VOTE'!? Embarrassed, she abruptly terminated her diatribe with a sheepish 'No, I didn't. That bad ... doant'?

Although I am not naturally judgemental, I got so miffed by the persistent lamenting about all aspects of Jamaican life from someone who thought up every single possible excuse for ducking the voting process that I told her if they were giving away money, she would have found a way to get to the polling station.

Needless to say, she was very unhappy with my statement and sulked for a while. But she got the point. Our ability to vote is more valuable than free money; what we do or don't do can change the entire course of our country as it did on February 25.

I've heard stories of constituents choosing to remain electorally silent, not for any idealisms but simply for 'a likkle money'. I heard that the going price for a vote or for the constituent not to vote was $5,000. I heard that those who got paid before the polls opened were required to dip their finger in ink somehow acquired by the usurpers of the system. And those that got paid after the fact received the money secretly under the cover of darkness.

Whether out of greed, disappointment in the system, disgust with all things political, confusion or personal protest to send a negative message to our leaders, the silence screamed for urgent change in the way our politicians behave in general and especially towards us. I hope that they are listening.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.