Friday 25 September, 2020

Parties must think outside the box to get to voters, says Davis-Whyte

Helene Davis-Whyte

Helene Davis-Whyte

With Jamaicans expected to go to the polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, political commentator Helene Davis-Whyte says parties will have to use non-traditional means to get their messages to voters.

She said how the parties strategise towards that end could be key to victory.   

“How our political parties organise and campaign is going to be different. I think it (campaigning) may favour, this time around, the younger persons who are more into social media. Campaigning by social media may in fact appeal to (younger persons) more and they may be more comfortable with it than our older voters who are accustomed to the mass meetings and going out on those …escapades,” Davis-Whyte reasoned.

“A lot is going to depend on the ability of each political party to be able to get to voters via non-traditional means because they’re certainly not going to be able to get to them via the traditional means by and large. It (COVID-19) may affect the voter turnout if, in fact, persons who would normally be energized by the mass rallies... will not be tuning in to a campaign, so it may affect the voter turnout negatively as a result,” she added.

She was speaking in her capacity as president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions during a private sector/civil society virtual press conference on the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The surge in the number of COVID-19 cases on the island over the past two weeks has led to concern that the upcoming general elections could see the lowest voter turnout in the country’s electoral history.

The last general elections held on February 25, 2016 in which the governing Jamaica Labour Party eked out a narrow one-seat upset victory over the People’s National Party has the record for the lowest voter turnout. On that occasion, a mere 48.37 per cent of electors on the voters’ list of 1.82 million bothered to cast a ballot. That trend was observed in previous elections as the December 2011 poll saw just 53.17 per cent of 1.6 million eligible voters exercising their right to vote. The number was 61.46 per cent in the 2007 elections and 59 per cent in 2002.

“I don’t think we’re going to, in this period (of COVID-19) see any return to the era of high voter turnout in Jamaica,” said Davis-Whyte.

Traditionally, lower voter turnout favours the governing party. The argument that is advanced is that people do not vote for opposition parties; rather, they vote out governments.

Meanwhile, anticipation is high that Prime Minister Andrew Holness could announce the date for the elections as early as Tuesday afternoon when the parliament reconvenes its sittings. The traditional announcement at a mass meeting with tens of thousands of supporters in attendance will not happen this time around due to the pandemic.

--Lynford Simpson

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