Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Saving democracy - the most urgent priority

Published:Saturday | February 27, 2016 | 12:05 AMPaul Jennings



THE GLEANER'S editorial in Friday's edition posits electoral reform and our general approach to governance as the most pressing 'New order of business for Jamaica' consequent upon Thursday's elections.

Against the background of the lowest level of participation of persons of voting age since Independence, I would like to amplify your inarguable priorities, as the continuation of the trend of non-participation in elections since 1993 strikes at the very root of any notion of democracy.

Based upon the preliminary data published by the Electoral Office of Jamaica, the voter turnout in yesterday's elections was 47.7 per cent. This is based upon a total of 1,824,410 registered voters. If the actual turnout of 870,627 is gauged against a voting age population (VAP) estimate of 2.05 million, the actual participation rate falls to 42.5 per cent. Tabulated below is a comparison of VAP participation rates since 1980 (Original source data to 2011 published at

Table 1. Participation Rates in General elections 1980 - 2016

Year Voter

Turnout Registered

Voters Voting Age

Population % VAP


2016 870,627 1,824,410 2,049,3871 42.5

2011 876,310 1,648,036 1,897,725 46.2

2007 808,240 1,338,146 1,630,960 49.6

2002 768,758 1,301,638 1,510,580 50.9

1997 773,425 1,182,292 1,585,760 48.8

1993 678,572 1,002,571 1,518,930 44.7

1989 845,485 1,078,760 1,434,000 59.0

1980 860,746 990,417 1,264,480 74.7

1. Based on a population estimate of 2,791,023 ( and the assumption that the age cohorts 18 years and older account for 73.4 per cent of the population as per STATIN demographic data for 2014).

While you identified that the end of the Cold War and the resultant ideological convergence between our two traditional parties as perhaps contributing to reduced polarisation, this has also, insidiously, coincided with the erosion of Jamaican democracy; as manifested in an average rate of non-participation of the order of 53 percent since 1989.

When the majority of your population consistently votes for 'none of the above', this suggests a democracy in crisis.

This reflects the erosive impact of the politics of alienation that has been engendered by our having cravenly adhered to the first-past-the-post style of representative democracy inherited from the British.

In augmenting your proposal for prioritisation of electoral and governance reform, I would, therefore, recommend the urgent need for a national consultation on how we might reform our current system towards a politics of participation.

In this regard, the very notion of representativeness needs to be revisited, as well as the transformation to an appropriate system of proportional representation to encourage and sustain mass participation.