Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Silent majority haunts democracy

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Taneisha Clarke-Ennis tests the electronic voter identification system used in some elections while Sheryl Cyrus (second right), acting poll clerk, watches and Joeanna Brown, acting presiding officer, gives directions on August 3, 2013. Declining voter turnout, especially among youth, is a major concern, writes MP Dayton Campbell. - File

Dayton Campbell, Guest Columnist

In recent times, both Bill Johnson and Don Anderson, who could be credited as Jamaica's most renowned and credible pollsters, have done surveys looking at likely voting intention if a general election were to be called at the times of canvasses.

In relation to party, Johnson and Anderson produced the following findings, respectively: People's National Party (PNP) 15 per cent, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) 27 per cent; and PNP 17 per cent, JLP 25 per cent. A cursory review shows that both pollsters found that only 42 per cent of those enumerated are likely to vote. What this says to me is that the real problem is that of the silent majority.

The silent majority is that group of persons who are currently totally turned off from our politics for varying reasons. Some are of the opinion that both political parties are the same and offer nothing that will accrue to their benefit. This statement is obviously false, but in an attempt not to make this article a partisan review, I will not expound on the differences. What is clear is that there is no large cohort of voters that is running to either party in droves.

Uninterested youth

I am most concerned about youth involvement, as at this time, it is abundantly clear that there is generalised malaise and apathy mainly linked to a number of factors. Limited educational opportunities, high levels of youth unemployment, and cost of funding tertiary-level education, among other things such as perceived corruption, are at the top of the list.

Would we see a greater level of involvement if we created an environment where young people felt they had a stake in this country? Would we see greater political awareness and participation if more young persons were given a chance, and having got that chance, performed with dignity?

My own awakening to the reality of this matter reminds me of what my grandmother would say: "When fire deh a muss-muss tail, him think a cool breeze." This, my fellow Jamaicans, is, indeed, fire. There is a clarion call to action and a need for all representatives, including myself, to be the change we want to see. We must engage all sectors of the society. We must listen to their concerns. We must endeavour to have consultation that leads to consensus.

If we are not able to get a buy-in, our democracy is under severe threat. With a turnout of 42 per cent, a party with 22 per cent support could win an election. Would this really represent a mandate?

Lack of awareness

There are clear deficiencies in the system. People are not aware of the roles and responsibilities of their leaders, which points to a need for an extensive public education programme outlining our civic responsibilities. There are persons who would prefer a member of parliament (MP) who buys a drink at the bar as opposed to an MP who invests in education. Is it that we have forgotten the fight for universal adult suffrage? Have we forgotten the good policies from the different administrations?

How is it that a woman glorifies the United States of America (USA) and condemns Jamaica when women have been granted equal pay for equal work and maternal leave with pay in Jamaica since the 1970s when these rights are still being advocated for in the mighty USA?

It may be just as easy to cite cases where trust in our politicians has been shattered, but I will choose not to focus on those except to condemn such actions and totally dissociate myself from any action that is not transparent and insulated with the highest level of accountability, probity and propriety.

While acknowledging these flaws, I must confess that I am certainly not defined by my shortcomings. I, too, am a disciple of the governor general's I Believe campaign, as I believe that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that what is right with Jamaica cannot fix.

It is, therefore, critical that all those involved in politics operate with the greatest level of honesty, with the interest of the masses at the forefront of our operations, as failure to do so will see this voter apathy extending and threatening our democracy, which is already delicately perched.

In the end, the simple truth is that the JLP is enjoying a lead, but sadly, there is absolutely nothing for either party to celebrate.

Dayton Campbell is a medical doctor and MP for St Ann North Western. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and daytoncampbell@gmail.com.