February 23, 2016:
The general elections is just a few days away and #JamaicaVotes2016. Jamaica is known to be very tribal where politics is concerned. You’re either green or orange, the colours of the two main political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP).
Yes, party supporters take these colours very seriously, so much so that PNP supporters were seen defacing the image of the Jamaican national flag on a vuvuzela at a PNP rally recently. Because, apparently, they skipped the social studies class where we were taught the significance of our national symbols. Or, perhaps they took an entirely different class where the green on the national flag wasn’t symbolic of Jamaica’s verdant beauty, but in fact, represents the party colour of the JLP. But I digress.
What has been interesting to note is that the majority of those who are always visible following politicians on the campaign trail – the revelers, the party loyalists – are usually from a particular social strata known for high levels of insecurity evident in high unemployment rates, low educational attainment and low incomes, and Kingston, where both political parties have their most significant strongholds, ranks among the highest in the island.
The 2012 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) (see Jamaica Observer article) reveals poverty levels in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) that are much higher than the majority of the rest of the island. The JLP and PNP held rallies in Portmore and Half-Way-Tree, areas that are located in the KMA. Both venues were jam packed, the aerial views showed seas of orange and green.
There seems to be a connection between politics and poverty in Jamaica; that is, those who suffer the most – the marginalised and disenfranchised – seem to be the diehards who gravitate towards politicians and their promises. Or it could be the other way around; that the politicians prey on the disenfranchised the most, turning them into diehards.
But why is this so and why does it seem as if the marginalised themselves can’t make the connection? And if they do, why does the cycle continue year after year, election after election? Politicians depend on them (the vast majority) for power and they in turn receive patronage, albeit infrequently; a symbiotic relationship that keeps them stuck in an infinite loop of promises for votes and votes for patronage.
But is it more complex than the simple argument that the poor should recognise that they’re being exploited and not being adequately represented by their representatives? If one has a need so base that needs fulfilling but s/he can’t fulfil it, and along comes a patron like an angel bearing gifts, especially during this season, does one have the luxury of considering that they might be stuck in an exploitative relationship?
Perhaps many diehards are very much aware of their situation and genuinely believe that politicians simply giving them handouts is the logical thing to do, and are grateful in that regard. Perhaps it’s all they know. This is the reason for many remaining loyal – even for generations. $5,000 and a beer for every man on the corner are good enough policies, deserving of loyalty.
If you should ask the typical diehard about the policies of his or her party and their reason for supporting that party, the answer could be, among other things, any of the following:
“Dem check fi di ghetto yute dem.”
“Dem man deh mek wi eat a food.”
“Mi a born (insert political party here) an mi nah change!”
But what about the policies? What are your thoughts on the manifestos made public by both parties (JLP and PNP)? Manifestos are just formalities. For many diehards, patronage is the most important policy. Politicians know this too, hence they continue to exploit the most vulnerable and are unrepentant because there are many vulnerable diehards to exploit, and those that can’t be exploited and demand accountability are the minority. As one politician notes, those who are vocal about the issues and demand accountability are the ‘articulate minority‘. I guess he was right because the majority didn’t get wind of this insult or simply didn’t get it, or just didn’t care.
Diehardism does not benefit a democracy, especially not at the level at which it is evident in Jamaican politics. It goes hand-in-hand with a cycle of poverty because it emphasises loyalty at the expense of accountability and political patronage over policy – denying equal access to opportunities that can lift the most vulnerable groups out of poverty, such as training, jobs and community development.
A political representative is likely to promote training programmes and development projects that directly benefit their supporters, while largely ignoring communities and individuals that are affiliated with his or her opponent. This reinforces a culture of patronage and inhibits long-term growth and development. It promotes Diehardism both in those that benefit and those that don’t and ensures the continuity of such a cycle. For the former, the argument then becomes:
“Dem nah do nuttn fi di yute dem!”
Both the politicians (from both parties) and the people play an equal role in this relationship and have a part to play in changing the culture. Representation is a right of all citizens and should not depend on political affiliation. Likewise, demanding accountability irrespective of the party or the politician is key to equal representation of all citizens. Being vocal only when corruption scandals and poor representation are attached to the party or politician you don’t support, yet silent when your preferred party is in the hot seat is unbalanced.
Demanding accountability regardless of the politician or political party helps to change the political culture. It’s the only way to break the cycle of being blindly loyal. But it’s much harder cutting down a tree after it has fully grown so there’s little hope in preaching to the elders. The only hope for breaking the cycle lies in the youth of today stepping away from what has been passed down to them from generation to generation.