There are plenty of positive developments taking place in Jamaica’s fledgling democracy and political culture. As citizens, we will miss these if we focus too much on the usual fluff of political campaigning characterized by rhetoric, attack ads, mass rallies and motorcades.
For one, the manifestos of the two major political parties readying for the December 29 general election, indicate that for the first time there is a convergence on the fundamental economic model that must be employed to move the country forward. We must not underestimate the importance of the fact that for the first time the two major political parties have agreed on issues such as fiscal policies, debt management and the engagement of the multilaterals, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
One dare say what separates the Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Portia Simpson-Miller’s People’s National Party (PNP) are differences without distinction.
This convergence is not just on economic policies. There is no discernable difference between the parties on international relations. Both parties are at one as it relates to countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and China. On educational policy, it is commendable that the present administration has continued and strengthens the transformation program started by the previous administration.
It is also heartening to hear the opposition pledging to strengthen primary health care and to continue the ‘no user fee’ policy of the present administration. On national security, there is no difference in policy. Some of us can still recall the days of political interference in the operation of the security forces. Thank God those days are behind us.
Apart from a few skirmishes, the campaign so far has been peaceful. It was good to see the peaceful and jovial interactions between supporters on nomination day. I sincerely hope that this will continue throughout the rest of the campaign and beyond. Those who lived through the bloody elections of the 1970s and the ’80s can better appreciate this.
We hope that no other generation of Jamaicans will experience the monster of political violence and electoral malpractice. The political parties and the Electoral Commission deserve commendation.
One of the most refreshing and important development in Jamaica’s democracy and political culture is the significant number of Jamaicans born since Independence in 1962, who have offered themselves to represent both parties and serve their country. This is refreshing, as most if not all these ‘young’ Jamaicans are trained professionals with distinguished careers and have served their country well before entering representational politics.
The political leaders of both parties must be commended for recruiting and facilitating such a high caliber of new and young candidates. These new and younger politicians must be prepared to move away from the negative, violent, tribal and corrupt politics practiced by their political forebears. They must strive to put country before party.
Perhaps the most significant development taking place before our very eyes is the awakening of civil society. Civil society came to the fore over the government’s mishandling of the Christopher Coke extradition request in 2010. It was not the parliamentary opposition that forced the government to extradite ‘Dudus’ Coke, it was civil society. And contrary to the PNP’s K.D. Knight’s self belief, it wasn’t him or his party that caused Bruce Golding demise, it was civil society.
This historic fact must not escape us, because it is the first in the history of Jamaica that peaceful civil action has forced a prime minister out of office. This must serves as a warning to all future prime ministers. Organized civil action is one of the most important ingredients for true democracy and good governance, for left unchecked, democratically elected governments will abuse their powers. Even worse, when it suits them, government and opposition will unite to form a parliamentary block against the citizen.
Organized civil action must be encouraged because it strengthens and safeguard the democratic process and reduce violent and destructive civil unrests. It is therefore heartening to see the coming together of various church groups under the Jamaica Umbrella Groups of Churches (JUGC) that represents an estimated 99 per cent of the island’s Christian community.
The Private Sector Organization (PSOJ), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Manufacture Association and the Micro Small Medium Enterprises Alliance and other private and business sector organizations have developed a working collaboration.
The previous hostility among the island’s several trade unions have effectively ended since the establishment of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU). Advocacy groups such as Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), Families Against State Terrorism (FAST), Hear The Children Cry, etal, must be encouraged.
The power of advocacy was demonstrated recently with the formation of Citizens United to Reduce Electricity (CURE) bills. The group was successful in getting Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) to adjust aspects of its practice and caused the resignation of its CEO.
The establishment of the Jamaica’s National Action Integrity Forum is another important development as it seeks to tackle the intractable problem of public corruption. Most important is the establishment of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition. It brings together for the first time in the post-independence history of social movements in Jamaica, a broad cross-section of interests in civil society, most of which have had very limited experience of being in dialogue and collaborating.
The groups are in large part umbrella organizations of the private sector and churches, professional associations and the leading non-government organizations engaged in advocacy and programme implementation. As such, the Coalition represents an expansion and enrichment of on-going national efforts to strengthen social dialogue, create a social partnership, and strengthen civic participation in governance (JCSC Website).
Forming governments, though important, cannot be the extent of our democracy. Casting a ballot for your candidate of choice cannot be the extent of our democratic rights and responsibility. The continuous, active and responsible role of the citizen is the most important feature of true democracy and good governance.
We are still in the throes of a world economic crisis but yet the 2030 vision of Jamaica becoming the “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business” beckons. Time Magazine’s person of the year is ‘The Protestor’, in praise of the role of protest and protesters in ushering changes in the Arab block, Europe and North America.
Only a few days remain in 2011 and the year 2012 will mark Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. It is my prayer that for us, 2012 will be the year of the ‘Jamaican Citizen’ as we all awaken to our active and responsible roles. This is critical for social change and national development. After this election, let us once and for all commit to be a real Jamaican and join in pledging: “Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigor of my body in the service of my fellow citizens. I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”
A very optimistic and naive view.