>Jamaican Elections – Western Tribune column

>Here is the column from The Western Tribune for August 22. The elections I wrote about have been delayed due to Hurricane Dean.

The presidential election will be here before we know it. In fact, the way state political parties are jostling their primaries around, people in some states might be voting in their primaries before the year is out. In Jamaica, the elections are this month, and the locals here say this is the first really divisive election they can recall. The University of the West Indies has a partnership with UAB’s Sparkman Center for Global Health that allows me to be down here participating in public health work.

In our country, the political process is spirited, to say the least. Candidates make accusations about their opponents, staff members resign amid allegations of improprieties and the media blows up every little story in an effort to create controversy between the red and the blue.

But our red and blue colors are nothing like the green and the orange colors that represent the two parties in Jamaica. In fact, things are so tense here that we were told not to wear shirts of either color when we are in the communities. And just the mention of the upcoming elections can start a fight. A question about mosquito control on a survey I was conducting led one respondent to blame the mosquito problem (and by association, the threat of vector borne diseases) on the current party in power and he let me know in no uncertain terms that a change was needed.

While my brief analysis of the two parties (and the opinion of a local newspaper) suggests that there is not much more than a sliver of difference between the two in their philosophies, one would think that they are as different as night and day.

But the main difference between their political process and ours is the violence and threat of violence associated with the upcoming elections in Jamaica. So much so that leaders are suggesting that the elections might be delayed if something is not done to make the process more peaceful.

In addition gangs are very influential here, and their influence spills over in to the political arena. Young people especially are growing weary of living in garrisoned communities and not having control over their own lives and votes. They must submit to the will of the leaders and vote as they are told. To do otherwise, is a mortal sin and one young man described his portion of Jamaica as “talibanised.” He said if someone asks to see his ballot before he turns it in and he refuses, he is dead.

That kind of intimidation would not be tolerated in our country. Barring a delay the Jamaican elections will be over in a few days. Let’s hope they pass peacefully.

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