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Testing electoral democracy

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Police monitor voting in the General Election at the Hart Hill Basic School, West Portland Constituency on Monday, September 3, 2007. The ECJ must be on guard. It must make sure the staff of the Electoral Office of Jamaica is not compromised by money or fear and that the process of voter enumeration and registration, candidate nomination and electoral administration, in general, are fully protected from the contamination that is possible. - File

Robert Buddan, Contributor

There is both an optimistic and a cynical view of democracy which says that people should have the power to make their own decisions but, just in case they abuse that power, there should be checks and balances against power holders. Using prime ministerial power for the party at great cost to the national interest is an abuse of power and lying to the country about it is a great abuse of trust. Resignation is the honourable thing because honour is a check on conscience and a balance of justice.

I have written about a certain Machiavellianism rising in Jamaican politics (May 2). This is the politics where power is put before much of everything else. It is used to shore up those centres upon which the power of party and government rest. This includes the power of private groups and individuals in the formal and informal society. I have suggested that the significance of the Coke issue to our politics lies precisely here.

No truth, no credibility

I have also written that our democracy and governance are under a great test of strength (May 9). This is the test of credible governance which the politics of the Coke controversy has also placed on governance institutions. These institutions include the ministries of justice and the attorney general's office, foreign affairs, finance and national security. Of course, the office of the prime minister is implicated in all of these. Lack of truth and lack of trust weaken the credibility of these institutions.

One prominent member of the parliamentary Opposition believes there is a 'parallel government' at work. We might take this to mean that we have a facade democracy, an appearance of transparency and accountability. Behind this facade are people who do not tell Parliament the truth and a government that is operating by its own agenda of keeping itself in power. I, therefore, see 'parallel government' within the power-first Machiavellian framework.

I now draw attention to the real possibility of the corrosion of electoral democracy by Machiavellian politicians. I would be surprised if Mr Golding resigned as PM. Rather, he will try even harder to win another election. Therefore, I have great concern over that vital institution, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). Having seen the extent to which the ruling party is going to protect an individual whom the Americans want extradited on drug and gun charges, we must beware how far it will go to manipulate our electoral institutions.

The Government is willing to bring the nation into direct conflict with the United States at the peril of our eco-nomy, our freedoms to travel and our wish to be respected as law-abiding people, at least, the many of us who are. The sacrifice of the national interest and national reputation for the power that Mr Coke's organisation evidently has over the JLP and, by extension, the Government, and the rigid determination to protect that power is a danger to democracy.

Dr Peter Phillips said Coke might be the most powerful man in Jamaica because of the fear he exercises over the JLP Government. The JLP, I imagine, will continue to demonstrate strident determination to win electoral power over and over again. The institutions of our democracy, including the electoral institutions, had better be on guard.

Logically, Coke will not want the PNP in power. After all, it was the PNP that ratified the extradition treaty with the US in 1991. That treaty was used against Vivian Blake, 'Storyteller' Morrison, and a number of most wanted persons. It was under the PNP that the Shower Posse's power was eclipsed. It was the PNP that moved against 'its own' dons, most notably, 'Zekes' and 'Bulbie' Bennett. It was under the PNP that investigations began that culminated in the extradition request for Coke in August 2009. Coke would have been extradited had the PNP still been in power, once due process was honoured. This explains the logic behind the current Machiavellian desire to win power at all cost and keep power at any price, and we must be on guard against it.

ECJ, stay on guard!

The ECJ must be on guard. It must make sure the staff of the Electoral Office of Jamaica is not compromised by money or fear, and that the process of voter enumeration and registration, candidate nomination and electoral administration, in general, are fully protected from the contamination that is possible. It must look to see what might have happened in 2007 and how any repeat could be prevented.

We must also speed up progress on laws and regulations for financing elections and parties. There can be little doubt that criminal money, probably huge amounts, enters our campaigns. We must revisit the membership of the ECJ when a JLP-nominated member asked, "so wha?" if Mr Coke gave money to Harold Brady to pay Manatt, Phelps and Phillips to lobby for his cause. This attitude is too dismissive of the very tainted-money problem we should be seriously trying to deal with.

The Opposition party, the Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections, and international-election observers must be called upon to study the governing party's attitude against direct disclosure of contributors to elections, since contributors might be criminals, or since legitimate contributors might find that their contributions are mixed in with criminal contributions and are used for violent and illegal purposes.

Top of the list must be that all of us be on guard against violence. The arrest of a number of Shower Posse members in Toronto two weeks ago tells us that the organisation is a multinational one. It has branch plants in at least 20 cities in the US, United Kingdom and Canada. It follows that it has multi-local branches within Jamaica. If it is the JLP's powerful informal control centre, then it will be able to mobilise violent support for the election of JLP candidates in the next elections.

The second thing is that these forces might soon get reinforcement. An angry Toronto Sun article wrote of the Shower Posse members recently arrested, "Skip the bail and put them on a plane. If you really want to make this city safer, instead of letting these alleged gangsters get bail or lenient sentences, send these Shower Posse slugs back to Jamaica now and don't ever let them back in."

PM harbourng criminals

The Toronto Sun explained its logic: "If Jamaica's prime minister wants the leader of a gang that is allegedly responsible for 1,500 deaths in the US, [having refused to extradite Coke] maybe he'll take back the Toronto Shower Posse members too? Why even ask him. Send these alleged dirt bags packing."

With the British Conservative Party now in power, there will be greater pressure to deport gang members from that country too.

There is an unholy, if coincidental, alliance between the wealthy JLP supporters of northern St Andrew and the Shower Posse multinational and multilocal organisations. Our electoral democracy must break this alliance at the point where money buys votes and seats.

As Jean Pierre Kingsley, the former director of elections in Canada told Jamaicans in 2008, "if the political system does not control the money, the money will control the political system". Over to the ECJ.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Feedback may be sent to or