Wed | Apr 24, 2024

It’s time to localise national issues

Published:Thursday | February 22, 2024 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

As Jamaica gears up for its long-overdue local government elections on February 26, there are a number of critical insights that I would like to share about the overall state of our democracy, based on interpretation and analysis of national poll ratings conducted by Don Anderson’s Market Research Services Limited and Bluedot, regional studies over the past decade, and recent global reports on democracy.

The current efforts of the Jamaica Debates Commission must be highly commended for ensuring that citizens have the opportunity to listen to the policy proposals presented by the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), as well as to ensure a vibrant democracy at the level of local government and community development.

However, the question that still lingers is, to what extent will these national debates influence public opinion of the two major political parties, party leaders and voting behaviour, especially given the fact that our dominant political culture is heavily predicated on tradition and clientelist attitudes of the two major political parties?

While the Market Research Services Limited and Bluedot poll ratings display projections in differences and consistencies in patterns in voting behaviour and political participation, the most profound and consistent poll results from the two national polling agencies illustrate the top concerns of Jamaicans, both at the national and local government levels. These concerns range from rising cost of living, poverty, food insecurity, vulnerability to natural disasters, alarming crime and violence rates, high actual and perceived political corruption, social marginalisation and lack of equitable access to social and economic opportunities, including jobs, infrastructure and healthcare.

We are quite aware that corruption significantly hampers social and economic development and is also a threat to national security. This is evident in the 2023 World Justice Project survey, which reveals that corruption stifles fair access to opportunities,while 78 per cent of respondents in Jamaica believe that hiring, recruitment practices and awarding of contracts in the public sector is based on friends or family ties to political parties rather than on merit. At the regional level, this rate stands at 81 per cent among the 14 Caribbean countries surveyed. Additionally, 66 per cent of respondents in Jamaica believe that those working for political parties are corrupt.

In Jamaica, citizens’ trust in elections is as low as 35 per cent and in addition to this, only 18 per cent of respondents believe that elections are crucial levers in advocating for and driving meaningful social changes.

The 2023 Americas Barometer Report notes that younger generations in the Latin America and Caribbean region are increasingly interested in social change and show a higher support for democracy. This underscores the importance of youth development in strengthening democracy and reforms. I end with the statements for our reflection, “broader national issues need to be localised, this is the central ethos of local government” and “political choices affect policy outcomes”.

TINA RENIER