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EDITORIAL - 'Warmy's' barmy comment worth serious debate

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

THE SHAME of this latest in Everald Warmington's legion of flaky outbursts is that political delirium short-circuited a potentially serious discussion.

For this newspaper believes that the matter of compulsory voting, the germ of which was touched by Mr Warmington in his speech on Sunday, is worthy of serious debate in Jamaica, where a mere 53 per cent of voters turned out in the last general election and political apathy is of growing concern.

But Mr Warmington, after more than three decades as a politician and MP, is yet to develop the discipline required for logic and coherent argument. His stock in trade is rude bombast, as was on display in his South West St Catherine constituency.

"If you don't vote, you don't count," he declared.

The crassness of that comment might have been overlooked if that was the extent of his boorishness, and/or if he had pursued a broader contextual discussion of civic responsibility.

After all, there are around 30 countries around the world with compulsory voting legislation, including about a dozen where the laws are enforced.

Among the latter, Singapore, often held up as what Jamaica, with greater discipline and better policies, might have been, and Australia, one of the world's respected democracies.

Indeed, in Australia, a person who doesn't turn out on election day without a valid explanation can be fined A$20. Failure to pay can land the voter in gaol.

In Singapore, failure to vote can lead to removal from the voters' register and, like in Peru, limit access to some public services.

Advocates of compulsory voting insist that greater voter participation in elections - voter turnout in Australia is over 90 per cent - gives greater legitimacy to the resulting government and its actions, and acts as a guarantee of a higher quality of governance. Yet, there is the question of whether coercive pressure by the State to vote doesn't undermine the very democracy it aims to ensure.

Mr Warmington clearly adheres to the former view, except that he, rather than the State, becomes the enforcer and the politics of patronage, his weapon of choice.

So, a constituent who doesn't vote can't ask this MP "for government benefits", no matter how sick you are, or whether you are "the old lady on a crutch".

Corrupt state

Mr Warmington can display such hubris while he doles out insults because a corrupt Jamaican state bequeaths to his control a slithering trough of taxpayers' resources, from which he, like Mr Bumble to Oliver Twist, dispenses dollops of gruel.

These troughs, replenished annually from the Constituency Development Fund, are universally popular with MPs - as will be attested to by veterans of the hustings like Daryl Vaz and a newcomer such as Arnaldo Brown.

Such control of patronage, requiring 'the old lady on the crutch' to appeal directly to Mr Warmington, and to bear his insults while he checks his computer database for her political validity to aid, undermines the bureaucracy and the apparatus of the State.

But worse, the process is corrupt. It runs counter to a central recommendation of more than a decade and a half ago by a committee that suggested ways to eliminate those zones of political exclusions that mar Jamaica's democracy. Perhaps Mr Warmington's remarks, as batty as they may have been, provide a platform for a new debate on our democracy.

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.