Dorothy Pine-McLarty: Reject all forms of political violence
Jamaica has achieved significant gains in electoral reform and transformation over the last 30 years.
The country's successes in this area stand as a model for many countries internationally; some have come to examine our system, while others have invited us to observe their national elections.
All this is because of the high level of regard and respect they have for what we have done to modernise our electoral system, and how well this system has worked election after election.
This success has been possible because of a variety of reasons. We have removed the electoral process from direct political interference, which has provided a great deal of transparency. The way was paved with the establishment of the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) in 1979, which was transformed in 2006 into the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). This mechanism, which has had the overwhelming support of political leaders over the years, has been tremendously successful in guarding and strengthening the country's democratic process.
Lest we forget:
1. Jamaica was the first to use biometrics (fingerprints) to clean the voters' list and produce a special ID card.
2. Another first for Jamaica is the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System, used in selected constituencies and voting locations for identification of the voter, not for voting purposes. The application ensures one person, one vote, and same person, same vote.
This system has resulted in the almost total elimination of impersonation, reduced the risk of ballot tampering, substantially eliminated overvoting, and reduced the potential for intimidation associated with communal voting.
3. Jamaica has made use of GIS technology, which improves the accuracy of establishing electoral boundaries.
4. Jamaica has established the Constituted Authority, which facilitates the voiding or halting of polls where certain conditions warrant, and the retaking of polls within 30 days.
5. The House of Representatives has just approved groundbreaking legislation to address campaign finance issues, designed to control the level of spending on elections and control corrupt practices in this area.
TOO MUCH WORK DONE
We should be proud of these achievements as a people and as a country. We, therefore, should do nothing to reverse the extremely hard work we have done to get to this stage. It is for this reason that every law-abiding Jamaican should reject any attempt by anyone, anywhere, to introduce politically related violence during the period leading up to the next general election or thereafter.
We are world leaders in electoral reform. We must safeguard this achievement, this significant milestone. We are politically mature as a country and, therefore, politically related violence must have no place in the continued modernisation of our democracy and our electoral system.
We urge interest groups and civil society to take a stand. In the same way, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, other business groups and civil society recently called on the two main political leaders to commit to good economic governance after the elections, we urge a similar stance in relation to the call for no politically related violence during the election campaign.
Our political leaders, every single candidate representing the island's 63 constituencies, must speak out. They have a duty to this country to publicly declare their rejection of political violence, and any harm to the electoral process. This is a critical symbolic gesture as we must do everything to make the next general election one of the most peaceful in the recent modern history of Jamaica. This is possible. We must make it happen.
Indeed, we urge that this also be implemented by interest groups on a parish-by-parish basis to highlight the strong position of citizens of this country. All chambers of commerce, citizens' associations, neighbourhood groups, the Church, service clubs and professional and other organisations across the parishes should join together and send a signal to Jamaica that we will not standby and allow the gains of the electoral reform process to be eroded.
Jamaica, we must not tolerate backward steps in this regard. Let us move forward as a country to further strengthen the electoral system; to strengthen peace and stability in the society.
THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM
A strong and independent electoral system is essential for modern liberal democracies like Jamaica. Democracy is not an abstract; it is important for the transformation of a society, a nation, a country. Democracy is a system that provides its citizens with the most freedom, the most opportunity, the greatest prosperity, and the most comfortable life. In other words, creating a society in which to live, work and raise families.
The public, as citizens of Jamaica, has a responsibility to help to deepen and strengthen Jamaica's democracy. In order to ensure that democracy stays healthy and in good shape, each and every one of us as Jamaicans has to become active. Part of this active role is to reject political violence in any shape or form. This is necessary for political stability. This is necessary for peace. This is necessary for job creation and economic growth. This is fundamental for moving forward.
- Dorothy Pine-McLarty is chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.