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How to buy a voter

Published:Thursday | November 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

When politicians sit down to strategise how to win enough votes to get elected, they must have some idea of what voters want. They then set out to convince us that they can deliver.

But what do the voters actually want? And what do politicians believe voters want?

We can deduce what politicians think voters want by observing the strategies they actually employ. If they believe that the majority want a master plan for sustainable development in Jamaica, they would pull all their best brains together, pull on outside resources, and put together a compelling manifesto, indicating what they will do if elected. Doing this shows respect for the thinking voters.

To woo the articulate voter, the politician must persuade by force of argument, by the quality of the policies and plans advanced. Faced with competing manifestos, the thinking voter can study them, compare them, and come to a decision. Public debates, where opposing political gurus square off against each other, or field questions from respected analysts, will help the undecided to come to an informed decision. This is democracy.

But if politicians think that voters just 'want a money' and a few curry goat dinners, they know the nature of the political campaign they must run. They know that manifestos are unnecessary, for they will go unread and unstudied; and debates will only have entertainment value for the spectacle of their bombast and the wittiness of their repartee. What they must do to win the election is offer the best price to the voters for their vote.

I am reminded of the story of the man propositioning a woman. "Would you have sex with me if I gave you a million dollars?" he asked. "Well, yes!" she quickly replied. "Would you go to bed with me if I gave you half a million dollars?" he bargained. "Er, yes," she answered, a little peeved. "Would you have sex with me if I gave you a hundred dollars?" "What do you think I am?" she retorted angrily. "A whore?"

"We've already established that," the man said. "What we are doing now is haggling over the price!"


Little respect for voters


It seems to me that politicians on both sides of the aisle have very little respect for Jamaican voters. "Every voter has his or her price" must be their motto, and the task of the would-be MP is to find out what it is: a few sheets of zinc, a contract to build a road or a fence, funeral expenses, a waiver of import duty, school or examination fees, a piece of government land, a national honour, a government job, or a monopoly licence to operate a lucrative business.

This is not democracy. This is a marketplace where power and influence are bought and sold.

There is a lumpen element in Jamaica that constitutes the base of both the PNP and the JLP. Because their snouts are in the trough, their reason is impaired. Scandals don't matter, as long as it involves my side. "My turn to benefit will soon come," they reason.


Tired of corruption


Many Jamaicans are tired of the nightmare of corrupt politics. According to the polls, about half the electorate have decided not to vote, and many others have chosen not even to register to vote. This is not apathy; it is disgust!

The tribalists call it apathy, seeking to blame the disenchanted voter for not wishing to choose either of the poor options offered him or her.

Simply put, the majority of Jamaicans feel disrespected, and their votes are not for sale. Neither party comes up to the mark.

The PNP has convinced us that it is committed to passing all the IMF tests, and it wants us to make great sacrifices for the party to be able to do it. Having borrowed us into this mess, the PNP tells us that passing the IMF tests will allow us to borrow money more cheaply. The PNP does not seem able to grow the economy.

The JLP has failed to convince the electorate that it has a clear vision for the future. What will they do about garrisons, about job creation, about reversing the decline in our natural environment?

I wish both parties would commit themselves to creating an articulate majority in Jamaica, and stop pandering to the lumpen.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a rural development scientist. Email feedback to