Kristen Gyles | Voting for six or half dozen?
When I grow up, I want to have the confidence of a Jamaican politician. I, too, would love to feel unabashed, yet totally unwarranted pride in myself, no matter my performance, and no matter what anyone thinks. After reading ‘Dead Heat’ published in The Sunday Gleaner, I had to wonder what I was missing considering the optimistic boasts coming from representatives of the country’s two main political parties regarding their expectations of victory at the next general elections. This was despite the relatively low ratings for both parties currently. I suppose a win is a win – even if it is by one vote and even if the vast majority of the electorate doesn’t vote.
The results of the recently conducted public opinion poll by Market Research Services Limited were very interesting, though not necessarily surprising. First, only a combined 56 per cent of the respondents had a clear intention to vote either for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the People’s National Party (PNP), come the next election. Second, of those who said they would vote for the PNP, 46 per cent said they would because of party loyalty and of those who said they would vote for the JLP, 36 per cent said they would because of party loyalty.
Many would have assumed that by now the Jamaican electorate would have outgrown the ‘back of the class’ mentality that sees us voting to maintain tradition. But, without so many people still stuck keeping up with tribal politics, who would fill up the voting booths on election day?
The real issue here is that so many Jamaicans have simply lost faith in our democracy. The same issues plague the country, season after season, year after year, decade after decade. It doesn’t matter which political party is in power, and it doesn’t seem to matter who it is that sits at the helm of the ruling party. The big ticket items are always the same: crime, cost of living and corruption.
What is the difference between the six that we appear to get with one party as opposed to the half dozen that we get with the other? There is a philosophical and somewhat academic view that the difference lies somewhere in the philosophies upon which the parties were founded. On the one hand, an embrace of socialist ideology, which sees the poor taken care of and opportunities given to the underprivileged, and on the other hand an embrace of a free-market philosophy that promotes some kind of meritocracy where everyone can decide their own destiny. Yet, neither is the poor taken care of, nor the hard-working getting to decide their own destiny. Despite the stark differences we hear about and read about it in our textbooks, the policies of both parties seldom differ.
In fact, it seems the parties often suffer a radical change of ideology after coming to power, such that they manage to recycle the same detestable policies they hated with burning passion while they were sitting on the Opposition bench. For example, who knew that the PNP’s necessary, yet hypocritical stance against the 2017 NIDS bill would come after its own attempts to pass similar iterations of the same bill only years before?
Jamaicans are just sick and tired of the ‘hypocritricks’ and games that politicians play, and frankly, the polls say it all. Our political parties are forced to rely on politically indoctrinated people who will vote for them no matter what they do.
What of the rest of us? We, on the other hand, face the usual judgment for neglecting our so-called civic ‘duty’ to ink our fingers on election day. To make matters worse, it’s always young people who are blamed for the low voter-turnout. We hear that young people are disinterested, disengaged, and just don’t care.
Could it be that increasing education and awareness of the political landscape is what is responsible for the decreasing voter turnout? Could it be that we are simply tired of watching the two political parties hang themselves in a long string of conflicting policies?
Unimpressed? Maybe. But as a demographic, young people are neither ignorant nor oblivious to what is happening. They simply won’t be bullied into voting, just for voting’s sake. After all, they are not slaves to the electoral system.
And then, how much hope do we have? The youths in politics today seem equally as clannish and as tribal as the generation of politicians before them, programmed to sing the praises of their party, no matter the circumstances.
There is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the performance of our political representatives. It is doubtful that trendy campaign dub plates and the handfuls of cash usually dished out at election time will go very far. After all, the disingenuous claims of miracles worked (or horrific damage done, as the Opposition would posit) since the last election, and the long list of campaign promises will likely not change the minds of thinking Jamaicans. But, something tells me those are not the primary targets anyway.
Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.