Please do not insult me by talking in weeping tones about low voter turnout, especially, if you are a politician. It is no secret to those seeking elected office who is on the electoral rolls, and by extension who is not registered to vote. With that information, for any politician to not engage any potential voter points to the inherent corruption of our system of democracy. Strong words? Maybe.
I have been back in Jamaica just over three years, and I am a registered voter, never having had the opportunity to cast my ballot in the country of my birth. I have some of the excitement of any first-time voter. I need little to get me to go to the polls to cast my vote; I am a prime meal in the menu of electoral desires. So, let me pose a few simple questions to those who seem driven to make a living getting paid out of the public purse to represent me.
- Do I need to tell you my political preference, if it exists? No! Assume I’m neutral.
- Do you want to try to convince me to vote for you? You should!
- Do you think you need to let me know, directly, who you are and what you have done or are thinking of doing? If not, why not?
Now, with those simple questions posed, where can I go?
I have not seen any political candidate darken my door for either general election in February 2016 or local government election in November 2016. That’s a disgrace in its contempt.
I wrote a blog post in February, entitled Just tell me if you love me: the outcasting in Jamaican politics, before the general election. I wondered if ‘I may not be who the representatives want involved at all’ because the politicians were interested in ‘keep them poor, keep them hungry, keep them under control’. I do not fit that profile: I am not hungry, literally, or for most of the promises that politicians may be offering. But, I do want something from elected representatives. I want my mind tested. I wrote those months ago: ‘The lack of willingness to engage people on substantive issues is one of the things that has made me wonder who is being feted in all the political hullabaloo.’ That thought still has relevance.
Many politicians show that they are afflicted by the national disease of low productivity and are work-shy: ‘the ‘work’ is talking to the people’. The current Opposition showed that they were little interested in any broad dialogue with the nation, even to the extent of crying off what might have been showpiece televised debates. They got a real taste of how well that went down, but being shown the door in February. Don’t satisfy yourself by saying it was by one seat that PNP lost. They lost by many voters from their own known party support staying indoors, whether to eat the curry goat or other box food that had been offered or just to tune in to ‘Days of our lives’.
Many parish councillors are similarly afflicted. But, unlike MPs, some of whose work is broadcast for us to marvel at, the workings of local government in Jamaica is a dark secret to many. Imagine what life may be like, if, as in many munipalities in the US, one could watch local access TV to see what local government is doing. Go check out the website for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for example, and watch its archived video of meetings, including yesterday’s. Or, just check out it’s live feed that promotes the many attractive things that are going on in the city. Oh, you don’t have anything much of which you’re proud to show? My bad!🙄
The other thing that was true last February and was re-inforced this month is the following, which I wrote nine months ago: ‘My suspicion is that the PM has gotten locked into a mode of only being passionate and verbose when riled and is not up for moderate or moderated discussion. Maybe, it’s an age thing: getting cantankerous. I can relate to that. Maybe, it’s some other physiological thing.’ Whatever I might have thought was behind that tendency to be cantankerous, I could not have imagined it would be directed at her own party! What kind of election strategy tells you that yelling about your fearlessness and calling out your party supporters in public for showing they disliked chosen candidates, and issuing barely veiled threats to them is a sure-fire winner? People in a constituency have a tendency to know who and what they want and what they think works. For the people? You’re joking, right?
Usually, when people say ‘Have you lost it?’ they mean your mental faculties, but it can also be ‘the vote’. November 28 is proof positive, I would argue. Going from total control of municipal government, to ‘no count’ takes a certain skill, which I as a coach would not be teaching to any team that I hoped would succeed. I tell kids I coach:
- give yourself the best chance to win, not the best chance to lose;
- own goals must be avoided;
- don’t attack your team mates; save that for the opponents;
- remember what brought you success, forget what caused you defeat.
It’s not rocket science.
But, getting back to me, and not for narcissistic reasons. I wrote in February: ‘I want to be engaged, properly’. Then, ‘I want[ed] to know how PNP can step up the progress so my child can believe she has a bright future here. I want[ed] JLP to go further in showing me how to get from poverty to prosperity. I’m a product of both messages, after all.’
‘I’m waiting and I’m patient’, I wrote before the national election. That’s still the case. Except…
I am convinced that people like me are a threat to politicians. I can think, independently, and have little need for the spoils that politicians can share out to sway significant numbers. I’m a threat, not because, if so desired, I can vote you out, but if pressed I can plan to replace you. I may have no personal desire to be a politician, but I know many who do, and who are prepared to think about doing that outside certain existing party constraints.
No one lives for ever, and no group of politicians and political hacks lasts forever in a democracy. Jamaica is a democracy that has many strong-minded people who have decided to withdraw from voting, because they despise and distrust politicians and political processes that have promised often but delivered rarely. These are not apathetic people: they are antipathetic.
The politics of poverty-maintenance and garrison building is derelict, like many of the structures in such places. Waiting in the ‘food line’ of political favours is demeaning to anyone who can think stand up for themselves. Like bushing offers no permanent solution to overgrown areas, trying to buy votes with ‘make-work’ schemes is a never-ending exercise, and the price has to keep rising.
Those antipathetic voters are people who can move and shake in other walks of life and many have yet decided that they are not going to move and shake to the voting station. Some, I suspect, have seen their political will exercised in other, equally discreet, ways, say as funders of party activities. (Think back to the multiple campaigns going on within the PNP during the general election. Wasn’t that political power being exercised in ways as powerful, or more so, than the vote?)
Politicians who forget what representing the people means often end up in the same place, and it’s called ‘out of office’. Fine, if you have other skills, and have built up possible alternative work. But, ‘retired MP’ on a resume has a funky ring. Of course, some lose their position for the very reason they were elected, and that tells you that something is indeed “rotten in the town (sic) of Denmark” (to repeat a poignantly misstated remark).
Finally, the buck has a nasty way of stopping where it should. If you want to be a politician who dissembles and tries to sell the image of a ‘Nirvana-like’ state that you have created, yet people can see and smell and taste and wade through the squalour that really exist, then I suggest you find yourself auditioning as a stand-up comic. In that case, if the laughter stops, don’t be surprised by where people find the supply of rotten fruit and vegetables to throw.