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Elections is a time when the citizens of a nation vote on who and which sets of ideals will govern their country. Depending on the type of Government practiced, usually there are two or more parties (political bodies) involved unless it’s a Monarchy or Dictatorship. Each party will have policies by which they plan to govern the nation if they are elected. These policies include rules to protect and secure the people and provide solutions to social problems. Once elected the party becomes a major part of the country’s administrative structure. It forms the nation’s primary legislative body with the responsibility to transform their policies into laws. The leader of each party is usually someone who is chosen to ensure that the polices of their party is carried out.
Let’s look at Jamaica’s administrative structure. Jamaica enjoys a Parliamentary Democracy type of Government. That is a government where the citizens elect representatives from among themselves to form the governing body.
The Head of State for Jamaica is Queen Elizabeth II since February 06, 1952, who is represented by the Governor General. The Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoints a governor-general as her representative in Jamaica. Sir Patrick Linton Allen is the current Governor General from March 26, 2009.
The Head of the Government is the Prime Minister who is appointed by the people. Currently the Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness, leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), was sworn in as Prime Minister on 3 March 2016, succeeding People's National Party (PNP) leader the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller.
The legislative branch of the government, which is responsible for the laws of the country is made up of the two houses of Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives. Laws are written, discussed and voted on in Congress.
The Senate consists of twenty-one (21) members appointed by the Governor General. Thirteen (13) persons on the advice of the Prime Minister and eight (8) on the recommendation of the leader of the Opposition.
The House of Representative consist of sixty-three (63) elected officials, Members of Parliament (MPs), chosen by the people in a general Election. A MPs responsibility is three-fold, they must work in the legislative branch of government, in Parliament itself, work in the constituency that elected them and work for their political party. Some MPs within the governing party also become Government Ministers with specific responsibilities in certain areas, such as Education, Youth and Information or Justice or Tourism.
General Elections are held every 5 years in Jamaica at which time Parliament must be dissolved. The Prime Minister however may advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament at any time within the five years and name a date for a general election. Parliament may also be dissolved before the five-year period if majority of the members of the House of Representatives supports a no-confidence motion against the Government.
Local Government office holders such as Mayors and Councillors are selected during Local Elections. These persons should either live or work in the area that they represent. The Department of Local Government works within communities through Local Authorities entities namely the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the Portmore Municipal Council and the 12 Parish Councils. Their responsibilities include water supplies, road works, parks and beautification, cemeteries, markets, drains and street lights to name a few.
The two main parties in Jamaica are the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP). Sadly, over the years the nation has been divided to such a point where you are either JLP or PNP. People will tell you, “My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and all my family was a ‘die hearted’ PNP, so I’m a PNP” or JLP. You can’t live in certain areas unless you are a JLP or PNP supporter for fear of your life. Even among the ‘more educated’, friends would be sure to condemn that green or orange clothing the other person was wearing implicating their political preference especially if it differed from their own.
Unfortunately, this mentality is still very prevalent today among some of our voters. Irrespective of what election is going on, General, Local or even By Elections voters vote for which ever candidate is JLP or PNP since that’s their party. No research is done on the candidates up for elections. Are they eligible or qualified for the position? Are they capably to carry out the functions and what are their ideals. Some people have no clue as to what it is that they are even voting for, especially in a Local Election. “What’s the difference?” some will ask. Many Jamaicans are very dishearten with the electoral process. Some are just plain scared based on the intimidation practices in some areas. Others will go with whoever is willing to pay the highest for their vote come election day.
Having said that I do believe there is still hope in our younger voters. They are now more than ever questioning the policies and demanding accountability from those responsible. With all the new technology, today more information is readily available on the electoral process and the persons up for election. There is also a renewed energy to educate the next generation about their involvement in the running of the country and the importance of their vote.
U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) defined democracy as:
«Government of the people, by the people, for the people».
This can only work to the good of all if the right persons are selected to form the countries government. It is important for every eligible citizen to educate themselves of the policies being promised by potential candidates during elections, exercise their civil duty to vote and demand performance from those elected. After all, whether General or Local Elections, an election is your opportunity to make a difference in the governance of your nation.