On Sunday February 7, I was forced to send a hasty email to colleagues at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. I had accepted the invitation of Dr Aaron Kamugisha to give the annual Kamau Brathwaite Lecture in Cultural Studies. The agreed date was February 25.
But Prime Minister Simpson Miller had just exercised her constitutional right to call an election any time she chooses. And I had every intention of exercising my own right to vote. Is a good thing I sent the email on Sunday night. Publicity for the lecture was going to be sent out on Monday morning. Luckily, we were able to postpone to March 3.
In the larger scheme of things, my change of plans to accommodate elections is a minor matter. But I’m sure there are far more problematic issues for people doing business in Jamaica. The deliberate uncertainty about the date of elections makes it difficult to plan efficiently.
Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not blaming the prime minister personally for this state of affairs. The real issue is our foolish system of governance. It gives too much power to the prime minister to arbitrarily determine when elections are called.
AMBUSH IN THE NIGHT
The date of elections should be fixed. No prime minister should be able to ambush the Opposition and the people of Jamaica with elections that come like a thief in night. The prime minister’s announcement last Sunday was clearly a surprise for the Opposition, even though they had been daring her to call elections.
Our Maroon ancestors perfected the art of the ambush. From their vantage point in the mountains, they were able to expertly attack British soldiers. Foolishly dressed in bright red uniforms, the arrogant soldiers were an easy target. The Jamaica Labour Party is certainly not as vulnerable as those British soldiers. Their green uniforms are good for camouflage in the bush.
All the same, the suddenness of the prime minister’s announcement of elections seems to have destabilised the Opposition. Andrew Holness is now crying foul. In Jamaica, politics is war. And, as proverbial wisdom cynically asserts, all is fair in love and war.
These days, we are much more sophisticated than we used to be. Instead of brutally attacking opponents with physical violence, we now use old and new media. The blows are still effective but there’s far less blood. This is definitely progress.
“NAH VOTE AGAIN”
When I gleefully told a friend how happy I was that I would be able to vote, the surprising response was, “Does voting mean that much to you?” Of course, it does! I know the history of this country. There was a time when black people could not vote unless we owned substantial property.
The right to vote puts all of us on an equal footing, even if it’s only for one day. As Louise Bennett observes in her poem, Revelation:
Everybody got a vote, an
Every vote gwine swell de score;
Missa Issa, Missa Hanna
An de man wat sweep de store.
Still for all, I completely understand the position of those non-voters who can’t be bothered to participate in the ritual of elections. For them, it’s a choice between worse and ‘worserer’. The Rastafari DJ Anthony B is the spokesman for a whole heap of Jamaicans who “nah vote again”.
Anthony B gives new meaning to the names of our political parties. PNP becomes “pains, needs an’ poverty”. JLP is “juicing di life of di ghetto pikni”. And NDM is “new destruction for you and me”. Fed up with deceitful politicians who promise what they don’t intend to deliver, many Jamaicans just ‘tek weh’ themselves out of politics.
Except for diehard Labourites and Comrades, rational Jamaicans do have moments of doubt when we wonder what is the point of voting. It’s the same old, same old: Politicians getting fatter and fatter, living high on the hog. I keep wondering if the men, especially, are not aware of the risk of diabetes that comes with overweight. And diabetes medication often causes erectile dysfunction. It comes down to a choice between sex and food.
What keeps me voting is the certainty that my voice does matter. I decide which seems to be the lesser of the two evil parties, and I vote against the more evil one. Third parties don’t stand a chance in our either/or system. So that leaves the NDM out. One of these days, I’d like to able to vote for a party rather than against. I just don’t know when.
People who don’t vote like to think they’re superior to those foolish ones of us who still participate in the fraudulent system. There’s a kind of arrogant self-righteousness about not voting that can be very comforting. Me never vote fi dem. So no bodder come tell me nutten bout dem.
But non-voters do vote for ‘dem’ by default. You end up voting for whoever wins because you did not exercise your right to make a choice. If we don’t want to keep on being ambushed by politicians, we must insist on claiming the right to vote for a new system of governance. One that fixes the date of elections and takes absolute power out of the hands of the prime minister.