EDITORIAL: Welcome signs for electoral democracy
Growing opposition to the use of violence during general elections in countries like Jamaica and Guyana is a most welcome development for electoral democracy and good governance.
In Jamaica, where there are rising expectations of a snap general election, possibly even before Christmas, Prime Minister Andrew Holness went one step further this past weekend in warning his own Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members that they faced expulsion should they be found guilty of encouraging or participating in political violence.
In Guyana, now in the final rounds of campaigning for its November 28 presidential and parliamentary elections, contesting parties have signed a Code of Conduct, prepared by the Elections Commission, that commits them to scrupulously observe the principles for peaceful and responsible campaigning and behaviour on voting day.
This development in Guyana came with the restoration of electoral democracy in October 1992 after a prolonged history of violence and electoral fraud.
St Lucia, which will also be having its election on November 28, used to have what was more of a declaratory principles of a code of conduct than a mechanism for enforcement, such as in Guyana, where its bipartisan Elections Commission plays a pivotal role in ensuring observance.
Neither the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP) nor the main opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) has shown interest in even a set of declaratory principles for campaigning. But the police have had to investigate cases of rowdyism and, worse, defacing and destruction of posters of the SLP.
Such behaviour pales in comparison with what Jamaicans so often have had to contend with during parliamentary elections — irrespective of the party in office. And one of the central areas infamous for political thuggery and criminal violence has been West Kingston.
Having been the constituency of some famous political leaders and prime ministers, such as Alexander Bustamante, Edward Seaga and the recently resigned Bruce Golding, it has evolved as one of the infamous “garrisons” where poverty and violence, in and out of elections, became the norm.
However, both the JLP and People’s National Party (PNP), which have traditionally dominated governance of the country, even before political independence and quite often accused of being part of the problems of violence, are focusing more on ensuring peaceful elections and placing emphases on ideas and programmes.
This augurs well for Jamaica and the election, whenever held, could be a turning point in favour of a new era for peaceful polls resulting from matured political leadership. In this context, not just Jamaica and Guyana but other CARICOM states would be aware of Barbados’ acquired reputation for peaceful, mature election campaigns consistent with a deep respect for electoral democracy.