Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Voting blues! - PNP and JLP agree that voter apathy not good for Jamaica’s democracy

Published:Monday | February 15, 2016 | 2:12 AMNadine Wilson
Julian Robinson (left), PNP deputy general secretary and state minister, in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining giving a synopsis of his portfolio to members of the Gleaner Youth Council last Saturday.
Opposition spokesperson on education and youth and JLP campaign spokesperson, Kamina Johnson Smith (right) speaking with members of the Gleaner's Youth Council last Saturday.
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With a little more than half the people on the latest voters list expected to vote in the February 25 general election, representatives of the two major political parties have added their voices to concerns about the growing voter apathy in the country.

In separate meetings with representatives of the Gleaner’s Youth Council last Saturday, deputy general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP) Julian Robinson and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaign spokesperson Kamina Johnson-Smith, responded to the Council’s article published last week under the headline ‘Dumb democracy’.

In the article the Council noted the declining voters in elections since 1944 and warned that the growing voter apathy was, “a widespread, silent and desperate cry for help”.

But Robinson told the Council members that while voter apathy is not good for a healthy democracy, it is not necessarily a bad thing either for an incumbent party.

Robinson, who is the state minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, and who is defending the South East St Andrew seat, said he, like many others, has been taking note of the decreasing participation of Jamaicans in the electoral process.

“From a straight partisan perspective, lower turnout tends to suit the incumbent, so I am not going to tell you that I am wishing for a super high turnout in this election,” said Robinson.

“Generally when you have a high turnout, people are very motivated, so it’s generally not a good thing for the incumbent,” added Robinson.

He said despite the fact that a low voter turn out could suit the PNP, he is urging eligible Jamaicans to exercise their franchise on February 25, by casting their votes to help determine their political representative for the next few years.

“There is a level of disillusionment with the political process. Some people believe participation doesn’t make a difference; obviously I don’t agree with that because I am involved. One vote can make a difference in a constituency.

“The quality of representation that you get can be influenced by whether you participate or not,” said Robinson.

He encouraged Jamaican youths to vote and let their voices be heard.

In the meantime, Johnson-Smith bemoaned the high voter apathy among young Jamaicans and argued that politicians need to find innovative ways to encourage young voters to participate in the electoral process.

“The scariest thing for me is to recognise how low our voter turnout is becoming and to hear young people say that they just can’t be bothered,” said Johnson-Smith.

“Either they don’t see how their vote makes a difference or they don’t feel that the political process makes a difference,” added Johnson-Smith.

She argued:  “The ‘ray ray’ turns off some people, while conservatism turns off others. There is no please-all or no one-size-fits-all, but what is sure is that what we have as politics now is not pleasing to the majority and a large part of the population did not vote.”

The Council, which includes youth advocates from the Respect Jamaica and UNICEF sponsored Y-CLICK initiative, has expressed a high level of dissatisfaction with the country’s electoral process and argued that this belief has contributed to low youth participation during elections.

“Since achieving independence, our electoral process has systemically lessened the power of the people. The concept of the 'safe seats', the continued power of garrison politics and, yes, the diminishing interest of Jamaicans in the political affairs of their country are symptomatic of this reality,” said the Council.

“We continue to hear criticisms of voter apathy and lack of civic pride, largely directed at our growing youth population. However, this withdrawal from the electoral process by young Jamaicans is nothing more than a widespread, silent and desperate cry for help,” added the Council.

Robinson said while he understands the current disillusionment with the political process that has been expressed by the youths, he believes there are some issues that influence that.

“I think youth unemployment is an issue which has a negative impact on youth participation. The reality is that youth unemployment is high and persons who are unemployed are going to feel disenchanted with the political system, because they will feel that it hasn’t provided an opportunity for them from the job perspective,” he said.

According to Robinson, the PNP has sought to establish a stable foundation for job creation by improving the economy and disagrees with any suggestion that the current administration has failed the nation’s youths.

- Corey Robinson contributed to this story.