Third Parties – Why they are still viable options for Jamaica

By Hume Johnson, PhD
Contributed Dr. Hume Johnson *** Local Caption *** Contributed Dr Hume Johnson
Dr Hume Johnson

This week, the notion of Third Parties  in Jamaica has re-emerged in light of news that Jamaica’s most popular Third Party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), established by former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, may not contest the next general elections. This is due to financial issues, and the need to replenish and refocus the Party. I discussed with The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper how Third Parties can remain a viable aspect of the democratic framework in Jamaica.I outline my perspective below:

THIRD PARTIES VS. ‘WINNER TAKES ALL’ ELECTORAL MODEL
Third parties have always thrived on the emotional response of the population, citizens’ deep disenchantment with the performance of their political representatives, and the nature of governance.
Third parties have always wished to also expose the failure of majority politics, the flaws of the first- past-the post ‘winner takes all’ electoral/ political system largely designed to facilitate the two party abuse we are currently witnessing in Jamaica.
WHY THE NDM EXCITED IN 2007
In the pre-2007 period, , excited a disillusioned Jamaican middle class because it attempted to show the possibility of a ‘third way’, a pathway to  genuine democratic governance in Jamaica.
It’s doom – and the doom for Third parties in Jamaica – is their attempt to ‘win’ in a system, they know they can’t beat, their failure to operate strategically, to set out a clear agenda and a set of policies which they are pushing on behalf of the people. With just over 50% of the electorate turning out to vote in 2011, is a stark indication of the loss of interest in the policy agenda, and performance of the main political parties.
THIRD PARTIES – STILL VIABLE

Yet, Third parties can become a viable aspect of the democratic framework in Jamaica. Less Third parties’ aim ought not to be to win, but to make a statement of protest against two party monopoly that is destroying the country.  They must field strong, progressive leaders with genuine interest in and support for progressive issues such as healthcare, education or human rights. In other words, give voters people to vote for.

It’s also important that Third parties articulate a clear philosophy, values and policies and push their agendas into public discussions over the entirety of the electoral cycle, not just during a campaign period. They should be putting pressure on the Government to serve the people of Jamaica.

Under the current system, a Third party framework is possible but only through the state. Rather than become disenchanted with the system they cant beat, they ought to question the two party monopoly and hold the Government to account. But much more than that, Third parties must pay more attention to political realities, fight for change with the current system.
ARTICULATE POLICIES AND ENGAGE CITIZENS
Rather than a policy to merely expose current failings of the administration, they ought to bring to the table a set of policies, articulate their position on the issues confronting Jamaica; speak up in behalf of the Jamaican people; engage in participatory governance – go into the communities and talk to ordinary Jamaicans about the issues that are of concern to them; fill in the gaps in governance left by the main political parties; support initiatives that are neglected; get the Jamaican people excited about issues rather than people and personalities.
To succeed, to excite the population, to be viable and credible, Third parties, cannot posture themselves as ‘opposition parties’ but as progressive organisations that are pro-issues, pro-policies, pro-good governance, and pro-people.
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Dr. Hume Johnson is a Political Analyst. She writes extensively on civil society and governance in Jamaica, and elsewhere. She is the author of the book ‘Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest and Governance in Jamaica’ (Cambria Press, New York).

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