Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Alfred Dawes | Why vote buying is here to stay

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2023 | 1:11 AM

In the time spent walking among the people I hope to represent, I have learned so much from their personal experiences that it gives me a new understanding on the subjectivity of “doing the right thing”. Not to say that I grew up privileged, or...

In the time spent walking among the people I hope to represent, I have learned so much from their personal experiences that it gives me a new understanding on the subjectivity of “doing the right thing”. Not to say that I grew up privileged, or that I am now wealthy, but that I had forgotten what it felt like to not have my basic needs met, and for my challenges to reside at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Simply seeing the news reports and hearing the stories of suffering does not strike the chord needed to spur us into action for their sake. Preoccupied with our needs for self-actualisation or imbibing on the pleasures bought with the surplus from our hard work, numbs us to the suffering of those who are less privileged. Their suffering is an uncomfortable reality that we prefer to shut out, or mask with token donations and treats, making us feel better about ourselves that we are keeping our humanity. The danger of the single story is that they are stereotyped as handout-loving and entire communities labelled as troubled or dangerous. There is more to be understood but it requires a walk in their shoes. Only then can the subjectivity of the morality surrounding vote buying be appreciated.

In listening to disaffected voters, it is apparent that across Jamaica, a significant number of politicians have been using the same playbook for decades. Around the time of elections there is a flurry of activities in the communities where they serve. Roads are patched or at least marl dumped in potholes, there are back to school fairs, outreaches, churches are full and walks through the communities become more frequent. These are necessary activities to connect with the people who you intend to serve. In fact, the walks and community presence are the exact itinerary I currently utilise in order to cover as much ground as possible in introducing myself. However, in the conversations surrounding my newness, the concern that many voters have is that as soon as victory is complete, the accessible campaigner retreats to the comforts of their office. They rightly question if I will be any different.


As one neighbouring constituent told me, “We’re gonna take as much as we can get from unnu because we know that after elections wi not gonna to see unnu again for another five years.” His reality in the political game is one of seasonal engagement, broken promises, a persistence of the status quo, and a repeat in the next election cycle. How then can we use our version of morality, shaped from a higher perch, then criticise the hungry man from selling his right to vote? That money wrapped up in a T-shirt is all he believes he will ever be able to extract from the system and it serves his immediate economic needs.

His options include listening to pontificators like us telling him that it is wrong and lose that money that means so much more to him than it would to us. In that instance, we are asking him to sacrifice a basic need for a greater cause that never seems to materialise. The certainty of the bought vote is their starting point and the appeals to not engage in the activity are calls to turn away money that has already been earmarked for an immediate need. That decision outcome is then to accept a certain loss by turning away the vote buyer, in the hope that in doing so, it will create a fair political system with better representation and less corruption. Or they could just take the money. It would be hard-pressed for anyone faced with financial uncertainties consuming their daily thoughts to heed our call to action against the practice. Their desperate situation views vote buying as the only way they can extract value from a system that neglects their basic needs. It is reparations that they are collecting from that system on election day.


The political system, by its seasonal approach to voter engagement and track record of broken promises, creates this environment that fosters vote buying. Simply appealing to the electorate on moral grounds will not work as long as the system continues to function in an immoral manner. What drives the decision cannot be the desire to be morally upright when you are the only player at the table taking that stance and in doing so, the only one losing money. Money whose relativistic value is far greater to you than the ones urging you not to take it. It is easy then to see the confusion on the faces of those who can’t believe that someone would really sell their votes for a measly $2,000.

Because a vote has descended into becoming a transactional curio, it is very difficult for one to campaign on goals that extend beyond an election cycle. The average Jamaican voter from the inner city is more preoccupied with their day-to-day survival than the dream of having an economically independent Jamaica, or which system of government, capitalist versus socialist, better addresses their needs. The challenge both political parties face is how to convince a growing cohort of disaffected voters that they are the vehicle of change that will fix the broken system. It is either that message, or secure more funding to adjust for inflation.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to and