Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Time for renewal: The old political guards must let go!

Published:Thursday | October 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jamaicans, impressively, are always actively listening and engaging in discourse about politics and governance in the country. Wherever one may find himself or herself - in a taxi, at the barber or hairdresser, in a shop or corner bar - it's almost guaranteed that there will be debates relating to what is happening in the country and people will be sharing their ideas about what should and should not be done, who would be more suitable for certain positions, and what they envisage to be the outcome of our current efforts in the next couple of years. It seems to me that the challenge we face lies in the fact that our interests in this regard do not often translate into an exercise of our franchise to vote and, otherwise, participate, in order to hold our leaders accountable to us, the people of this great nation.

The results of the most recent Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson polls paint a frightening picture. Forty-one per cent of Jamaicans who are enumerated say they would not vote, and another 16 per cent are undecided at this time. This is, of course no surprise, since, from as early as the 1970s, with the exception of 1983 when the People's National Party (PNP) boycotted the general elections and less than 30 per cent of persons voted, the people have been demonstrating their lack of confidence by not turning out to vote. In 1978, 86.1 per cent of persons voted; in 1983, 86.9 per cent; in 1989, 77.6 per cent; in 1993, 66.7 per cent; in 1997, 66.1 per cent; in 2002, 60 per cent; in 2007, 61.54 per cent; and in 2011, 52.76 per cent. It might be worthwhile for us to consider this downward trend not only as a matter of concern in terms of low voter turnout, but a sort of passive protest by the people.

That said, it is instructive, I believe, particularly for our political leaders in terms of what must urgently be done to address the abysmal state we seem to be stuck or resigned in. Perhaps rescue would be more fitting since the situation is so desperate. The situation has left far too many of us disillusioned, hopeless and overwhelmed. In addition to the dozens of other urgent things that must be accomplished in the lead-up to the local government and general elections, the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy to begin a process of renewal and hope in the role of our political parties, parliament and most important, our country, must be on the agenda.

The youth are essential

Importantly, political parties must provide more space and opportunity to attract and mentor more young people and young adults. Our young(er) politicians need to be given more responsibilities so they can more meaningfully participate in policy and decision-making at all levels of the society, including and especially in Parliament and the political parties.

I have never been so impressed with the output of Parliament as I am today. The young parliamentarians are doing extremely well. Many people I know are very impressed with the work of these parliamentarians; they are renewing our confidence in the political system. They give us hope.

Dayton Campbell should be commended for his focus not only on championing Student Loan Bureau reform, but his selfless involvement in his constituency, giving back through free medicals and making himself available to his people; Kamina Johnson Smith, who is resolute in her advocacy for the sexual and reproductive health rights of our girls and for increased protection for girls and women from all forms of violence; Raymond Pryce in his advocacy for the decriminalisation of marijuana; Imani Duncan-Pryce, who successfully mooted for the increased involvement of women in political decision-making; Marlene Malahoo Forte, who reads and researches bills brought before the Senate in a very thorough way and makes practical suggestions and amendments in her contributions; Daryl Vaz, who is most admired not only as an exemplary member of parliament (MP), but his capacity for bipartisan approaches to national issues; Julian Robinson, who has done a remarkable job of balancing his duties as MP and as a portfolio minister - he is consistent and inclusive in engaging his constituents; Mikhail Phillips, who is one of the few on both sides of the house who is always present and punctual for parliamentary committee meetings.

It is past time for some of the old guards to make room for more of our younger politicians with vision. It is important for the rejuvenation of our political system, and the legitimacy and responsiveness of our democracy depends on it.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.