Need for genuine participatory democracy

Monday, February 20, 2012

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Perhaps Jamaicans will be told soon what has motivated Mr Danville Walker to leave competitive politics just over three months after he was formally introduced with much fanfare as the Jamaica labour Party (JLP) candidate for Central Manchester.

The thinking back then was that the man who had gained tremendous respect for his years in the public service, particularly as director of elections, had entered politics for the long haul.

Mr Walker had himself promised Central Manchester that he would be using his "industry and intellect to find a way to solve the employment issues, the crime issues and the developmental issues." Mr Audley Shaw, JLP deputy leader and the then finance minister, formally introduced Mr Walker as one who "will lift the quality of leadership" in Jamaica.

Unfortunately, Mr Walker gave no reasons for his departure from politics in his statement to the media last Friday. We are left to wonder if perhaps he was influenced by the legal issues connected to the probe of scrap metal exports allegedly in breach of a Cabinet Order while he was head of the Customs Department.

Or could it be that he is simply frustrated at having lost the Central Manchester contest in the December 29 election? The latter thought reminds us of the concern expressed in this space late last October at the manner in which both parties were going about choosing some candidates.

This newspaper believes that the leadership of both our major political parties have become far too willing to act -- apparently without much consultation with the relevant constituency organisation -- in selecting candidates from outside of the community altogether. In some cases, as was the case with Mr Walker, candidates are chosen who are not only unrelated to the constituency in question but have no known prior links with the political party.

While we recognise the felt need by the political parties to attract the 'brightest and the best' as election candidates, surely a litmus test should also ascertain the unquestioned commitment of the candidate to the communities that make up the constituency.

It seems to us that if our democracy, as originally conceived, is to work properly, voters should have a right to expect that those for whom they cast their ballots are in it for the long, tough haul -- win or lose. That's why it is important that the political parties should seek to build strong constituency organisations which will support the building of communities and, at the same time, the growth of leadership skills at the local community level.

That way the local political organisation for either party, be it in Central Manchester or any other constituency, should be able to choose from among their own as they seek a standard bearer come election time.

Don't get us wrong. This newspaper is not suggesting that the parties should not choose from the brightest and the best. But we believe that both parties would be doing a great service to the nation should they seek at community and constituency level to attract the brightest and the best to their fold, not just at election time, but all the time.

In such a situation, aspiring political leaders at community and constituency level should be required to prove themselves by dint of their service and work at that local level.

In such situations, we believe, party delegates would be better able to make informed decisions about who should represent them; and the ugly incidences of party hardcore rebelling against candidates imposed on them by party headquarters would be minimised.

Who knows, should Jamaica ever get to such a stage of genuine participatory democracy in choosing candidates all across the board, the current worryingly high levels of public cynicism towards the political process could be minimised. Jamaica could even return to high voter turnouts on general election day.




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