May we never relive the shame of 1980

May we never relive the shame of 1980

Friday, October 30, 2020

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Forty years ago today, Jamaicans went to the polls to elect a new Government after almost a year of bitter campaigning that resulted in at least 800 deaths, injury to hundreds, dislocation of many families, and the creation of deep political divisions that took us decades to resolve.

And, even as we have seen in recent years a general maturing of the electorate, whereby supporters of both major political parties now campaign in friendship, there are still remnants of that political divide from the turbulent 1970s.

At the time, Jamaica was a pawn in the Cold War between the United States and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The then ruling People's National Party (PNP), which had declared itself democrat socialist and embraced communist leaders across the world, was at war with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which preached capitalism and stayed close to the West.

True to their nature, the left-leaning political organisations here, namely the Workers Party of Jamaica (WPJ) and the Communist Party of Jamaica (CPJ), capitalised on the ideological differences and threw their support behind the PNP. In fact, there were times when the impression was given that the communist movements were the PNP's ventriloquists.

The most distressing aspect of that period, though, was the senseless violence that Jamaicans unleashed on each other in the name of partisan politics. That operatives in the PNP, JLP, WPJ, and CPJ encouraged and even funded this violence made it even worse, as it virtually plunged the country into a civil war, which also created zones of exclusion in communities. In many instances people could not cross a street to visit their neighbours, because the street itself was a line of demarcation.

In addition to the many innocent lives lost, among them children and the elderly, Jamaica's name was stained internationally.

The island also suffered a brain drain, as well as capital flight due to the unpopular policies of the then Government. Therefore, it was no surprise that on October 30, 1980 the PNP was swept out of office, managing to win only nine of the 60 parliamentary seats to the JLP's 51.

The election itself saw total voter turnout of 86.91 per cent, as 860,746 of the 990,417 electors on the voters' list cast their ballots.

Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) records show that the JLP received 502,115 votes (58.34 per cent), while 350,064 votes (40.67 per cent) were counted for the PNP, and 8,040 ballots were rejected.

There was, of course, a lot of bogus voting — another shameful feature of our politics that took us too long to correct. However, the fact is that what obtains now is a monumental improvement on what existed then, thanks to the EOJ and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

But even as we have largely exorcised violence from our politics, there remains the disgraceful practice of vote-buying which suggests to us that too many Jamaicans still do not place a high regard on the value of their vote. Additionally it's a statement of contempt for the populace by the politicians who dole out money in exchange for votes.

It is a problem that needs to be tackled by the political parties and all right-thinking Jamaicans as it is not healthy for democracy.

But as we deal with that threat to the integrity of our political system, we recognise and applaud the fact that we have come a long way since 1980. May we never return to that shameful time.

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