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EDITORIAL - After the local gov't elections

Published:Wednesday | March 28, 2012 | 12:00 AM

TUESDAY'S VICTORY in the local government elections by the People's National Party (PNP) was hardly surprising. Neither did it tell us much, if anything, that we didn't know about the state of politics in Jamaica.

First, the 149 seats won by the PNP, giving it control of at least 11 of the 12 parish councils, plus the Portmore municipality, gave it 66 per cent of the seats. But that is roughly equivalent to the two-thirds that fell into its columns in last December's parliamentary elections when it retook the national government.

And although the 34.4 per cent of voters who turned out on Monday was low, so too was the 51 per cent who cast ballots in December. Additionally, the differential in voter turnout between the December election and Monday's was not, on the face of it, significantly at odds with those of previous national and local elections.

This does not mean we presume current levels of voter participation - such as Monday's when approximately two-thirds of the electors stayed home - to be healthy. The recent trends, not unlike the case in other liberal democracies, underline a deepening disenchantment with politics. It poses a danger to democracy.

Creeping dysfunction

Increasingly, it is the hard core of the parties who vote. In the circumstance, even reasonable people may ask questions about the legitimacy of the foundation upon which our democracy rests. Unreasonable ones may presume cause for anti-democratic action.

In any event, when a large majority of voters retreat from voting, especially in the absence of sufficiently robust alternative avenues of democratic expression, the process of governance is likely to become dysfunctional. The ultimate outcome of what in Jamaica is a creeping dysfunction could be the failure of the State, the potential effects of which we regularly have more than glimpses of. Think, for instance, about the governmental waffle over the extradition of Christopher Coke and the Tivoli Gardens incursion.

If Jamaica's political parties remain invested, as we know they are, in the country's democracy, they should act with speed and redouble efforts to rebuild confidence in themselves and the political process. Completing the passage and implementation of campaign-finance legislation, to weaken the grip of special interests on the country's democracy, would not be a bad start. That bill is now before Parliament.

JLP under pressure

While the demands are on all who support democracy, the greater pressure, at this time, is on the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and its leader, Mr Andrew Holness. It lost the national government after a single term and was trounced again on Monday, gaining 43 per cent of the popular vote to the PNP's 56 per cent.

Jamaicans lost confidence in the JLP, we believe, largely over the Coke affair, which most believe displayed a putrid underside of the country's politics. Mr Holness can, with some justification, claim that he has not had time to repair the mess he inherited.

The problem for Mr Holness, up to now, is that Jamaicans do not perceive him to have done, or have had the inclination to do, much. But elections are now behind him. He must now start to articulate a vision for his party and take the hard decisions necessary for the resuscitation of his party.

There is another possible upside related to Monday's vote: the PNP's manifesto promise of meaningful local government reform.

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: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.