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EDITORIAL - Silent middle class must assert itself

Published:Thursday | October 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM

The smart money says that Andrew Holness might call a general election by yearend, but certainly by February. It's the kind of bet that would demand great odds to be against.

For the putative prime minister, who takes office on Sunday, will most likely seek to take advantage of the bounce that the resignation of Mr Bruce Golding, along with his own ascendancy, has given the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) among voters. To wait the year, until the constitutional end of the life of the Government, is politically risky, given the many tough decisions that whoever governs Jamaica will have to take.

At least, that is what we presume is the reckoning of Mr Holness and his JLP, and falls within the calculation of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP). It is little wonder, therefore, that both parties are busy attempting to shore up their bases.

Advice for politicians

This is where we have a bit of advice for both parties about how they might load the dice. Or, perhaps better, to awaken an often-too-silent group about how they can influence the outcome of this political flutter.

Jamaica's last general election in September 2007 was decided by a difference of four parliamentary seats and 3,240 votes from a bit over 800,000 people, just over 60 per cent of the electorate, who cast ballots.

Essentially, the parties were down to, or, if we were to give them the benefit of the doubt, only slightly above their hard-core support. This, largely, is the crowd that is persistently at the rallies, and owners of the bodies that contort and protrude from vehicles that weave and speed death-defyingly in motorcades on their way to hazy conferences. They are the ones who, in this haze, decide on party leaders.

Increasingly, they are the ones to whom the parties speak, because they are assured votes. They cast ballots in expectation of spoils and trinkets if their side throws the high. To put it crudely, this group, the political hard core, while being players in the contest of democracy, are also pawns of the process, cynically manipulated by politicians.

Middle class ignored

The rest of us, the thinking cohort, which we loosely refer to as the middle class, from whom most of their leaders are derived, are ignored by the parties.

There are two main reasons for this: it is hard work to formulate compelling and convincing arguments, rather than mindless sloganeering, for this group; and, having become disenchanted with the corruption and pettiness of a spoils-based politics, Jamaica's middle class has disengaged, preferring to observe the process from the sidelines.

Yet, Jamaica's thinking middle class has the power to profoundly influence change. First, it has to appreciate that while the parties can win elections without this group, they cannot govern effectively without the intellectual input of this group. The near atrophy of politics and governance in the wake of its disengagement is obvious.

It also has the example of the results when it exerted itself at the height of the Christopher Coke extradition scandal, when various organisations and leaders declared on behalf of this group for what they would not stand. The coalition has to be rebuilt.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.