IT WAS more than symbolic that politicians on either side of the divide turned out last week to pay glowing tribute to Professor Errol Miller. And he is alive.
Significantly, the focus was not primarily on Professor Miller's work in academia and his specialty of education, where his achievements were many. Rather, he was being praised for his role as chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), a post he held for a dozen years until his retirement last December.
That is important.
There was a time when elections in Jamaica were substantially corrupt. In some communities, ballot boxes were routinely stuffed and in some cases the winning candidate received more votes than there were electors on the constituency register. Electoral officials often colluded with the perpetrators of the fraud.
All that began to change 35 years ago with the establishment of the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC), chaired by the late Professor Gladstone Mills and comprised of party representatives and independent members. It is that which evolved into the ECJ, where voting authority rests with independent members.
The transformation of Jamaica's electoral system to one in which people again repose confidence, and outsiders have sought to emulate, was not always an easy or smooth process. There have been fights and quarrels between the political parties and, at times, between the parties on one side and the independent commissioners on the other.
Two things, however, have been important.
First, the public has, by and large, maintained confidence in the integrity of the commissioners and, therefore, underpinned their decisions with moral authority.
Second, the EAC/ECJ has benefited from good leadership. This is where Professor Miller counts.
He was clear that he was building on the foundations of his predecessors while at the same time bringing new and occasionally unique perspectives to the effort. Further, while being firm in his intentions, his calm, measured style served him well in dealing with usually oversized and easily bruised political egos.
Professor Miller's departure comes at a time when a crucial advancement in the electoral process remains outstanding: legislation for the registration of political parties and for the regulation of election campaign financing.
The administration has promised that these would already have been before Parliament. That timetable has slipped and we detect uncertainty and waffle about this part of the legislative agenda from Phillip Paulwell, who has responsibility for such matters.
It would be a fitting tribute to Professor Miller and to Jamaica if the Government ensured that these laws are passed as a matter of urgency. It would be an important step towards removing Jamaica's democracy from the potential acquisition list of special interests with deep pockets.
Caribbean democracy at work
Last week's elections in Grenada and Barbados reaffirmed the strength of democracy in our region. We elect government by ballots and are assured the outcomes represent the will of the people.
In Grenada, where there was a temporary departure from this norm, the National Democratic Congress of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas was ousted by Dr Keith Mitchell's New National Party, which won all 15 seats in the parliament.
In Barbados, Freundel Stuart's Democratic Labour Party held on to the government with a narrow 16-14 victory over the Barbados Labour Party of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
Another example of Caribbean democracy is the fact that Mr Thomas and Mr Arthur will likely find themselves with jobs, perhaps voluntarily, but certainly without violence or bloodshed.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.