Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Editorial | Organise serious debates instead of old-style electioneering

Published:Tuesday | August 11, 2020 | 12:14 AM

It is almost a cliché for pundits to declare an election to be the most consequential in a country’s history. Usually, it is hyperbole. We will not make that claim about the general election that is soon to be held in Jamaica. It is beyond doubt, though, that Jamaica’s next vote, soon, will be during one of the most significant periods in recent world history and that the government that emerges from the exercise will have a difficult environment to navigate, requiring sober policies and skilful management.

That is why we urge the political parties to put aside their old styles of electioneering, where noise and glitz are peddled as big ideas, serious effort is sacrificed at the altar of short-term expedience, and declarations are posited as outcomes. This campaign insists upon sober discourse, through robust contestation of ideas.

This newspaper, of course, believes that every election in Jamaica is important – an opportunity for citizens to choose a government of their liking, which, at once, allows for people’s affirmation and revitalisation of our democracy. The backdrop to this one adds to its significance.

Specifically, the world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic that, thus far, has infected more than 20 million people and killed nearly three-quarter million. In the absence of a vaccine, the most effective way to slow the virus’ transmission, apart from hygienic vigilance, is preventing people coming into proximity with each other – the imposition of which, by governments, has caused the global economy to crater. The decline in the world’s output this year will be upwards of four per cent, deeper than the Great Recession of a dozen years ago.

REDUCTION IN DEBT RATIOS

In Jamaica, the collapse of international tourism has dragged down most other sectors. The estimate is for the island’s economy to decline by nearly six per cent in 2020. But it could be worse. This has happened in the face of an eight-year effort, after four decades of dislocation, to return the Jamaican economy to macroeconomic stability. The project delivered significant reduction in the country’s debt ratios and steady, though unspectacular, growth.

The economic rebuilding, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has happened across administrations – the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the previous People’s National Party (PNP). The question for voters is, which of the parties is now better able to lead the recovery: the JLP, which has managed the process over the past four and a half years, or the PNP, which did the early heavy lifting over the first four years? Linked to this, of course, must be a determination of whether the economy, as now structured, and the sectors it supports, is fit for the circumstances created by the coronavirus and what will exist if, indeed, there is a post-COVID-19 world anytime soon. Then, there are Jamaica’s many other socio-economic problems, including its epidemic of crime, especially homicides, and its crisis of underachievement in education, likely worsened by the dislocations caused by the coronavirus.

TRADE WARS

These decisions have to be considered in the context of an increasingly fragile global situation, where, apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is having to respond to Donald Trump’s assault on the global multilateralist architecture in which small, weak countries like Jamaica are assured of some insulation against the arbitrary actions of powerful ones. The international situation is further complicated by Mr Trump’s trade wars and efforts at technological containment of China in a bid to slow Beijing’s emergence as a challenger to America’s dominance as a global power.

When stripped to the core, there a three fundamental issues that are at stake for Jamaicans this election:

1. Leadership, meaning who would be better able to steer Jamaica through the uncertainty of the times;

2. Which of the parties is better possessed of the technical competence to do the job;

3. Which of the parties articulates the ideas and policies, underpinned by moral principles, that are worthy of voters’ trust.

This brings us back to our call for serious debate rather than the old carnival of noise, alliterations, and sound bites. The coronavirus and the restrictions on large gatherings of old-style campaign rallies provide the opportunity for the discourse we urge. Hopefully, therefore, the parties will agree to a series of broadcast debates on a range of policies, involving different levels of their leadership, where they explain their policies to voters.