Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Opting out

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Taneisha Clarke-Ennis tests the electronic voter identification system used in some elections while Sheryl Cyrus (left), acting poll clerk, watches and Joeanna Brown, acting presiding officer, gives directions.-File

Jamaicans failing to take advantage of the struggle for universal adult suffrage

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Like someone suffering from the dreaded chikungunya disease, Jamaicans, these days, shuffle in low numbers to voting booths in general and local government elections, 70 years after they were accorded the right to vote for the political leaders of their choices.

With the exception of the diehard, living for the most part in poverty-stricken garrison communities, scores of Jamaicans have not been eager to exercise their rights for which the 'Fathers of the Nation' fought and won under the mantle of universal adult suffrage.

The apathetic attitude towards

political governance is reflected in the attitude of 22-year-old Sacha, a resident of one of the tough garrison constituencies that invariably vote for the candidates representing the People's National Party (PNP).

Sacha told that The Gleaner that three years ago, after she became eligible to vote, she was coerced by her mother to cast a ballot for the PNP in the 2011 general election.

As Jamaica commemorates its 70th year of achieving this freedom, Sacha feels entirely disengaged. "Never again," she declares.

She discloses that she has not "switched allegiance" to the rival Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) but because she does not feel connected to any of the two organisations that formed the government since universal adult suffrage.

It was in 1944 that Norman Washington Manley, Alexander Bustamante and others secured universal adult suffrage for Jamaica.

But over the last 35 years, the "great disconnect" between a sizeable chunk of the electorate and political leaders has been increasing, if Bill Johnson in 2014, and other poll findings before serve as guide.

The real deal is that on election day 2011 only 52 per cent or just over half of the voting population exercised their rights.

HAS JAMAICA LOST ITS WAY?

The lacklustre attitude provokes the questions: Have Jamaicans surrendered their rights or has the country lost its way?

Then there is another crucial question that lingers on the lips of many: Are Jamaicans being bamboozled by the two political parties that have been around since universal adult suffrage?

Former Opposition (JLP) Senator Dennis Meadows diagnoses that the malady is a result of the folly of successive administrations.

He argues that a large bulk of the citizenry see no value in participating in the democratic process, even at the base level of casting a vote.

Meadows suggests that this reflects a lack of feeling of personal responsibility, a passivity and indifference for political affairs. "It denotes the absence of a feeling of personal obligation to participate."

The former political activist stresses that citizen involvement in the political process is essential for democracy to be viable and meaningful.

He argues that the limited political involvement is a sign of weakness because it is only through dialogue and participation that societal goals are defined and achieved in a democracy.

But Damion Crawford, a state minister in the PNP Government, believes that the notion of high voter apathy is a figment of people's imagination.

Crawford, the member of parliament for East Rural St Andrew, is of the view that voter apathy is overstated as a percentage of the voters' list.

He argues that the list contains many who are genuinely unable to vote for one reason or another.

Crawford further contends that many would-be voters on the list are dead, while others reside elsewhere.

The youthful politician charges that the list is not being properly cleansed as voters have relocated and have not been removed from the area where they were registered.

Crawford appears to be a great cynic of the governance process of which he is a part. He suggests that more persons who are informed realise that they can get much more done by befriending technocrats and therefore care little or not at all about their political representatives.

"This, in my mind, is extremely undemocratic, but when is it?" he queried rhetorically. "If a citizen can befriend a technocrat at a sufficiently high level in, let's say, the National Works Agency, he is more likely to get the road fixed than voting for the best MP in the world..."

Another youthful politician, Junior Rose, also of the PNP, suggests that voter apathy is not unique to Jamaica as it is similar in nature all over the globe

"This has to do with a number of realities as a person may not make the immediate connection between voting and improving their quality of life," said Rose. "They may not feel that their vote will make a difference."

He agrees that successive administrations must shoulder some of the blame. "Sometime people's expectations from electoral campaign are different from the realities post-election."

Delano Seiveright, a former president of Generation 2000, an affiliate of the JLP, who hopes to run as a candidate in the next general election in Eastern St Thomas, attributes the lacklustre attitude of many Jamaicans to the feeling of disengagement with the governance system.

THE DAILY STRUGGLE

"Jamaicans simply go on with their daily lives as it is a daily struggle for the overwhelming majority, including those from the middle class, to decide on whether to skip the light bill this month and pay the rent or mortgage," he said.

Added Seiveright: "Times are extraordinarily difficult and a lot of people have unfortunately lost or have no faith in the political process ..."

He agrees that both major political organisations have contributed in large measure to the apathy. "But to be fair, the PNP was in power for the last 21 of the last 25 years ... this isn't being political, we are simply being factual. Their failure in transforming the Jamaican economy for all those years and failure to improve our social situation has morphed into the deep mire we are forced to confront today."

He suggests that Jamaicans seem unaware as many, especially the young, live in their own world.

"They don't get caught up in other spheres of society and instead opt to do what makes them happy and makes them satisfied. They see no satisfaction in engaging in current affairs, it just doesn't interest many."