Withholding our votes could never be the answer
With the approach of elections it is not uncommon to hear people expressing a reluctance to vote on the basis that neither of the two major political parties is better than the other.
That cynical discourse is even more worrying coming from young Jamaicans who are the future of our country.
Based on recent polls, the bloc of people saying they will not vote is substantial, although, thankfully, it gets smaller as the elections near.
Truth be told, there are ugly elements of our politics and governance that we could never endorse, perpetuate or associate with. However, we do not believe that the answer to those ills lies in withholding one's vote. Rather, we think that the solution is to do the opposite — vote, but not in the manner in which we have become accustomed.
Instead of casting a ballot for a candidate simply because he/she represents the party which enjoys your loyalty, we suggest that the quality and integrity of the candidate should have significant influence on voters' decisions.
Of course, we expect that voters would exercise their franchise after careful examination of the parties' manifestos and deep reflection on their record. And, if the party of their choice forms the Government, we should not resile from holding them to the proposals in their manifesto.
But it is at the constituency level, we submit, that voters have real influence over how the country is governed. For it is at that level that representatives are held accountable and decisions made on their performance every five years.
So the right to vote, therefore, should not be taken lightly, neither should it be compromised on the altar of political expedience and election campaign rhetoric that, in some instances, smacks of opportunism and is devoid of a genuine commitment to making peoples lives, and the country, better.
We all should remember that the right to vote, the foundation of our democracy, was won by the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors who, prior to 1944, were denied that right.
We also should bear in mind that there are still nations today where citizens are not allowed to vote. Instead, they are subjected to autocracy or dictatorship of one kind or another.
However, recent developments in the Middle East — particularly in Egypt, Libya, and Syria — have demonstrated to the world that people are increasingly no longer willing to accept undemocratic rule. They are eager to have a say in how their countries, and their lives for that matter, are governed. It is against that background that we encourage Jamaicans to cherish and exercise their right to vote, because none of us would wish to be subjected to the alternative to democracy.
Critically too, it is not enough, we submit, to sit back and blame only the politicians for the state of the country. For we all have a responsibility in determining the type of government we get.
And, to put it at its simplest, if we don't vote we make a mockery of our right to complain when things go bad.