Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Garth Rattray | Who prevailed on election day?

Published:Monday | September 14, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Two friends, who did not wish to give their names, one supporting the  PNP  and the other the  JLP, ride out after casting their votes on September 3.
Two friends, who did not wish to give their names, one supporting the PNP and the other the JLP, ride out after casting their votes on September 3.

On the day of our general election, only 37 per cent of the registered electorate exercised their right to vote. Some speculated that, although extensive safety and sanitary measures were put in place at all polling stations, fear of the COVID-19 pandemic kept many people away. Consequently, some have downplayed the resounding Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) victory.

There are several serious flaws with that reasoning. Despite the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic, innumerable citizens still have parties without any consideration for sanitisation, distancing or covering up their noses and mouths. People still swarm downtown bargain centres and wholesale establishments without any care for ‘social distancing’ or masks. Shoppers still happily congregate to purchase goods, especially foodstuff. Given the opportunity, throngs will flock to our rivers and beaches in droves and mingle like bees without any protection whatsoever. Therefore, I do not believe that fear of COVID-19 played a significant role in keeping voters away.

Perhaps some used the pandemic as a convenient excuse to avoid the polls, but those people did not wish to vote anyway. The fact is that, whatever percentage of the electorate turned out, they represented the will of the people because fear of the pandemic, or whatever other reason people used to stay away, is not party selective. In other words, the same number of People’s National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party supporters would have been afraid to join the lines at the polls. It is safe to say that if 100 per cent of registered voters turned up and made their mark, the results would still have reflected the will of the people – they gave the JLP the mandate to carry on with the business of managing the country.

MOST VOTERS DID NOT CARE

The people who prevailed on election day were those who chose not to vote. Whether it was apathy, fear, anger or rebelliousnes,s the message is clear – most registered voters did not care sufficiently for one political party or the other to make the effort to get out and vote. This speaks to the frustration that many citizens experience. They believe that certain ills, apparently inherent in politics, will never change. And they see the problems with politics as being evenly distributed between both parties.

The writing was on the wall for a PNP defeat some five years ago. Although the PNP, with Dr Peter Phillips in the position of minister of finance, saved our country from the sort of economic ruin that would make Haiti seem prosperous, there was a feeling that the country had stopped moving forward. Then Prime Minister Simpson Miller declined the all-important political debate, projects were gathering dust on government shelves and, most of all, people felt as if they were being taken for granted. The JLP squeaked by in that election, took the lead and widened it by making certain to maintain high optics with every stride that they made.

Important projects that were languishing were brought to life. A lot of work was undertaken; there was an atmosphere of activity over the past four years. The PNP lacked cohesiveness, excitement, and futuristic plans. They highlighted the various corruption scandals under the JLP watch, but that failed to impact the electorate as they had hoped. The reason for this is that, over the years, there have been scandals and mishandling of authority on both sides.

I fervently hope that the mature ‘acceptance’ speech given by the prime minister will headline this administration’s upcoming performance. Politicians need to listen to the deafening shout of the prevailing silent majority and win back the confidence of the people. Too many citizens distrust them and are giving up on Jamaica. Stamping out corruption without fear or favour is of prime importance. A holistic approach to poverty, social inequity, indiscipline, crime and violence must be undertaken.

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