E is for Elections


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One of only a handful of election posters during the February 2016 election.

It was interesting to me when we first arrived in Jamaica in 2015 that there would soon be a general election. We arrived to a similar situation in Nepal in 2013, but the circumstances were a lot different. In Nepal, free elections were almost a brand new concept and the country was still struggling to stop tire-burning demonstrations,molotov cocktails being lobbed on street corners and spontaneous rioting.  Efforts were underway to prevent illegal voting and the city was transformed into a ghost town on election day, with all moving vehicles (except for official vehicles) banned from the street.  Voters had to walk to polling stations in an effort to prevent bussing.

Here in Jamaica they have their own  history of election violence, but in recent years it has been much less prelevant. Part of the tactics used to prevent election unrest includes control on the display of party materials, which was explained to me when I asked why there were so few political posters around.  Instead of the usual visual blast spread all over a city during elections, Kingston only displayed a modest few.  Close to the election date, we did see bus loads of orange-clad (PNP) and green-clad (JLP) supporters  – the two main parties — as they headed off to rallys, and we watched their orange and green litter blowing down Hope Road on the days leading up to the vote.  On 26th February 2016, Andrew Holness of the JLP was elected Prime Minister with very little civil unrest, and the Jamaican world moved on.

These experiences bring me to the US election, with primaries starting just as the Jamaican election finished.  I feel that my whole time here has been one long — one very long — election season.  Most Jamaicans that I know have access to cable TV with CNN and BBC coverage of what has been going on in US politics and are remarkably informed on the issues as well as the latest scandalous outburst.  In fact, its kind of shocking how closely they follow — its clear that they are not listening to only one media source — and know the ins and outs of each new shenanigan.   There’s an overwhelming disbelief that US politics could be going so badly and that rules, precedents and established norms are being so openly flouted.  I wonder how they feel about what they see in contrast with Jamaican corruption and I can only feel deeply embarrassed from where I stand, which appears to be somewhere in the first twenty minutes of a disaster movie.

I only feel more disheartened for my dear Filipino friends and what it must be like to live in a country that now openly murders people in the street, just a few short years since I lived there.  Democracy is never to be taken for granted.