Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Good signs for the election

Friday, April 26, 2002


THE Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) has said that the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) is, at this stage, 90 per cent prepared to manage the general elections that will take place this year.

Most of what is outstanding is the recruitment and training of 1,700 election day workers, nearly 90 per cent of whom are for Kingston and St Andrew.

The foregoing, therefore, is both good and bad news. The good news is that the EAC, which sets policy, and the EOJ, which is in charge of the operational side of the business, are well advanced in establishing the systems for a general election. Moreover, they appear reasonably confident that all will be ready by the time Prime Minister P J Patterson calls Jamaicans to the polls.

By our reckoning, that will be during the final quarter of the year.

The downside, however, to the progress report delivered by the EAC on Wednesday is the fact that most of the shortfall in electoral workers is in the Corporate Area, that is, Kingston and St Andrew.

That, of course, is understandable. For while EAC officials did not specifically say that there has been a shortage of applicants to serve as electoral officials in the Greater Kingston region, we suspect that to be the case.

The fact is that the capital, in many respects, is a very tough political environment. We know of the tough inner-city communities with high levels of crime at the best of times.

It is in these communities, and parts thereof, that our old divisive politics spawned the so-called garrison constituencies -- areas of exclusion for political opponents.

These are the communities where the political wars of the 1970s and early 1980s were fought and where there is still residual political violence, which has become enmeshed in ordinary crime and drugs. So many people will, understandably, be fearful of serving in such communities.

The situation, though, is far from hopeless. In 1997, CAFFE, the local election monitoring group, got people to serve in many of those communities and, although the organisation has been relatively dormant, we are confident that it can, and will, again have success in encouraging people to come out as election workers.

But perhaps the most significant development that gives us confidence is the posture of both the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) representatives on the EAC. Maxine Henry-Wilson of the ruling PNP said that her party was satisfied with what has happened so far and the discussion and dialogue that have accompanied decisions, causing reduction in tension. The JLP's Ryan Peralto essentially echoed Henry-Wilson's position.

The upshot is that the environment is less tense and emotive. More than at any other period in the past two decades, there is an atmosphere conducive to a peaceful election. This is happening, we remind, in a circumstance where the director of elections, Mr Danville Walker, has booted the political cronies and has put in place new systems to recruit election-day workers.

It is a far cry from Mr Walker's first go in 1997 when the Opposition was demanding Mr Walker's head. Being right, persistent and transparent definitely has its advantages.

Except for the views expressed in the columns above, the articles published on this page do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Jamaica Observer.