Edward Seaga, Contributor
In so far as the Electoral Office was concerned, I noted that "in no previous election has the Electoral Office ever been involved in distorting the electoral process ... . No single final voters' list was produced.
There was a preliminary list, a so-called final list, to correct the errors of the preliminary list, an addendum of thousands of names omitted from previous lists, a supplementary list to correct the addendum list when this was found to contain names of persons who were never enumerated, and a 'last-minute' list with still further corrections that was distributed on election eve, reaching some polling stations well into election day when they were useless, or ... never delivered at all. In seven constituencies, old electoral lists were used, not the list prepared for 1993.
"The black books supplied to each presiding officer to check the identity of each voter were so littered with errors that one returning officer, in his report, called it 'a big joke'. Three hundred thousand ID cards were never distributed ... . Without ID cards, bogus voting was rampant.
"On March 30, we witnessed the most disgraceful, corrupt and fraudulent election ever to occur in Jamaica, replete with official terrorism and mismanagement of the electoral system. Nonetheless, it was contended by the Government that all this should be swept under the carpet and business should continue as usual. Therefore, there was no need for a commission of enquiry."
With that response, I took the only course open to me to force a change of leadership at the Electoral Office and in the police force. I refused to name the eight Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) recommendations to be appointed as senators. By the end of July, the chief electoral officer and the commissioner of police were out of office and the JLP appointees were in the Senate.
19 petitions filed
The JLP filed 19 petitions in court under the Representation of the People Act, but with little hope of success. After the 1976 election, although several petitions were filed, only one came to trial within the five-year period. The judicial route was not a practical solution in eliminating electoral fraud.
Concurrently, Ryan Peralto, general secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party, had been advocating the introduction of a modern system of voter identification to replace the poor-quality ID cards and to prevent multiple registrations. This was an electronic verification system that would read fingerprints. It would produce positive identification that could eliminate duplications, impersonations and hence, multiple voting. A further phase would trigger the production of a ballot for each elector as identified. This would eliminate the fraudulent use of ballots.
If these two forms of abuses were no longer possible, electoral corruption could be reduced to acts of intimidation of voters and electoral officials. These would require intervention by the police force and reform of the force to cleanse it of political activists. This is precisely what Colonel Trevor McMillan, the new commissioner of police, set out to do on assuming the position in August 1993. In his brief tenure, the police force showed signs of becoming a body which not only could enforce law and order but itself would operate by the principles of law and order, free of corrupt policemen.
Without explicit rejection of the new electoral system initiated by Ryan Peralto, which the JLP fully embraced, the PNP, by its actions, at first, was clearly unenthusiastic. This dragged out the approvals and implementation for 12 years until it was first tried out in two pilot areas in the general election of 2002 and won bipartisan support.
From a country with what must have been one of the most corrupt electoral systems in the world, Jamaica, moved within a dozen years, to become one of the best.
Peralto, a small man, courageous and articulate, determined and dedicated to succeed, won the day with the assistance of Tony Johnson, the other JLP member on the Electoral Advisory Committee, and eventually the PNP members in piloting one of the few noteworthy successes of the 1990s in the public life of Jamaica, an electoral system based on 'one man, one vote; same man, same vote'.
However, if all the holes in a barrel are closed except one, the water will still run out. Because of the effectiveness of several reforms of the electoral system and the police force, all the loopholes were closed except one, the buying of votes. This has now become a wholesale fraudulent operation, as observed in the general election of 2007 and, particularly, 2011. The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ, formally EAC) has now prepared recommendations to Parliament with harsh conditions and stiff penalties to deal with dirty and tainted money in elections.
Parliament should not spare the whip in controlling this last fraudulent loophole which is preventing the establishment of a system of unquestionable integrity.
The fact that the recommendations of the ECJ now before Parliament have been accepted for drafting to go to the Cabinet is a good sign that the ECJ and the political parties mean business in stamping out the final area of corruption in the electoral system of Jamaica. Civil society must now put its considerable energy behind this final thrust to completely rid the electoral system of corruption.
Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of the University of Technology and a distinguished fellow at the UWI. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.