The People’s National Party (PNP) is in full self-congratulatory mode – back-slapping – grinning from ear to ear – publishing countless orange maps of Jamaica – mode. At some point, may we hope that they’ll pause to seriously consider the fact that nearly two-thirds of registered voters couldn’t be bothered to spend the five minutes or so it would have taken to vote in Monday’s empty polling stations?
The voter turn-out was about 34.5%. That says clearly that increasingly the political parties are talking to themselves. Barely more than 50% of registered voters voted in the December 29 election, still low, but higher than Monday’s figure. Even as the parties’ rhetoric about the importance of local government rises, public interest is plunging.
While we have a general problem with political apathy, I am suggesting that it’s time to start serious discussion about holding both general and local government elections on the same day, on the same ballot. Here are some pros and cons.
- We would save millions of dollars by having one election instead of two.
- The significant hype and attention given to general elections would help raise the profile of the local government elections.
- The local government candidates could campaign with the general election candidates, therefore raising their profile and visibility in the communities. We might even be able to figure out who our local government candidates are BEFORE we turn up at the polling stations! (personally – I did get a flyer from the sitting councillor (who I know) and a small card with the name and photo of the opposing candidate telling me where to vote).
- We’d only have to deal with one round of campaigning, not two (for those who saw any campaigning at all).
- Businesses and schools wouldn’t lose that extra day.
- Um, I can’t think of any.
- Ok, opponents argue that local government issues will be subordinated to the national issues in a general election campaign. I can’t take this very seriously. There is very little attention paid to local government issues anyway. Since local government is supposed to be community-based, then you don’t need the national media houses to feature your candidates and issues to any great extent. Plus we can’t. There are too many of them. Work with the community stations and groups.
- We would need legislative changes to allow same-day elections. Well, we amend legislation all the time. Somehow I think we can manage this.
- The problems of the different length parliamentary and local government terms would have to be considered. Again, this is not insurmountable. Not even close. Because of all the postponements of local government elections, councillors have frequently served four or five year terms anyway (stretching to about eight years for one notable period in the 1990s under the PNP, a dubious distinction of which the party should still be thoroughly ashamed.) We can decide to establish a fixed election date and hold both elections together. Or we can decide that both the parish councils and the parliament would be dissolved at the same time.
- It doesn’t suit the political parties. Ah, that trumps everything, doesn’t it?