Psst! Want to buy a vote?

If anyone tries to tell you that Jamaica is dull they are probably dead.

This week much media inrerest has focused on the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry. That’s hardly surprising, given full live TV coverage daily. It’s not everyone’s preferred viewing but it’s highly revealing, as I’ve noted in my three previous posts. But, it hasn’t eclipsed other events.

The government and ruling PNP seem to find new ways to shoot itself/themselves in the foot and the butt. What now?

Paul Burke, PNP general secretary, declared to Nationwide Radio that he suspected party supporters had bought as many as 500 votes in last Monday’s by-election in Central Westmoreland. It doesn’t tdke a word wizard to coin that a buy-electon. A weak pun, but take what’s given. He added that this was not a practice normally authorised by the party. Well, it also doesn’t take a candle that’s very bright to see that this may suggest that the PNP authorized such buying sometimes. At the moment, there’s not much to go on besides Mr. Burke’s attempt to come clean and his allegations that two Cabinet ministers were offered votes to buy but refused. No official reports have been made to the Electoral Office of Jamaica.

Vote-buying is illegal in Jamaica, with penalties of fines and imprisonment. But, conviction needs a case to go to trial. We’re a long way from that.

The opposition JLP also reported cases of votes being offered for sale during the byegone by/buy-election. They refused, they said.

Now, Burke said this practice is dangerous for democracy. Nitpicking me would note that saying that is not the same as saying it’s something that won’t be done with great regularity. Many things that are dangerous to democracy are done in Jamaica with party or government approval all the tie, so don’t get all holier-than-thou over that utterance.

It’s not hard to see that many would offer votes for sale. Jamaican political affairs have been transactional for decades. It’s well known that a curry goat dinner will ensure political support in many places. I guess that’s how Jamaican political types interpret currying favours.

Vote-buying might have happened under the guise of upgrades to the local environment just ahead of elections. That’s crude. But, it may work.

However, in a land where people’s lives are desperate, getting direct benefits work better. Fixed roads don’t fill hungry bellies. Anyway, where dies this fixed road take me, when I’ve no money to go anywhere? You get the picture?

Someone could coin the term prostitution politics. As Churchill was quoted as saying to Lady Astor, “Madame, we know what you are, it’s just your price we’re haggling about.” That’s the Jamaican electorate. It’s a cynical attitude, but get off your high horse and think from the perspective of a political history that has left thousands sending children to schools with pit latrines. Think about those whose luxury meal is chicken back. Sure, it’s sweet to eat sometimes, but what’s the deal when it’s your prime dish?

Look at the gleeful faces when some corporate body hands out some basic school supplies in a community. Talk about ants on sugar.

So, vote-buying has a clear context. That’s no justification but it’s a reason for lack of surprise.

Meanwhile, the PM expects to welcome the winning PNP candidate into Parliament on Tuesday.

One thing the exposure of vote-buying has shown is that the apathy of the Jamaican electorate is very strong. The prospect of having votes bought is not enough to bring people to the polls. Barely, a third of the electorate bothered to vote last Monday. My economics thinking says that the price for a vote needs to rise. Or, the value of a vote needs to rise. That means voting has to matter both in terms of candidates chosen and outcomes after elections.

The PM had trumpeted that her party owned Central Westmoreland. That’s as good as making the value of a vote plummet. Why bother voting? Many answered that with ‘No reason’.

Alternatively, what have votes delivered in terms of improvement? I don’t know the area but reports suggest conditions were appalling.

Whether voters can be seen as educated or not, they have a sense of their worth. It’s rational to see that worth work in the best way possible. Normal voting may do that, but in the face of deteriorating conditions, it’s every person for him- or herself. What’s my vote worth? Any bids?

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