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Patronage in the political context can be defined as support, whether in financial terms or in kind, as well as a privilege an individual or institution bestows upon another for purposes of a specific interest.
Over the 50 years of representative government in Jamaica, political patronage has been the order of the day. Weak enforcement mechanisms of the local laws in as far as electoral malpractice and subversion of democracy and the absence of an ethical framework to develop democracy have been the reason behind this. The Jamaican public needs to be insulated from the political patronage, if democracy is to develop and thrive.
The book Bricks, Ballots and Bullets is a documented platform that correctly and aptly analyses the nature of political patronage in Jamaica. The book covers the general elements of the democratic situation and relations with criminal gangs, guns, and electoral violence. It largely focuses on the negative elements of the Jamaican patronage system. However, it ignores, in equal measure, the steps made in the country to alleviate the issue.
Jamaican citizens are fused to the political parties and mostly get into the system through friends and relatives, who are connected with the political class. Democracy that is patron based results in the erosion of the widely accepted customary rules and norms. There is also an increasing fear of dominance by one party in some divisions and constituencies, particularly, in the capital city of Kingston.
The independence of electoral officers had always been questionable. At some point, ballot boxes in one polling station were covered with party colors. Clear cases of electoral malpractice, such as over-voting, are witnessed through the results, which show more resulting votes than the registered ones.
Intimidation, stealing of ballot boxes, and interference with the electoral process reached unprecedented extents; the elections were referred to as the worst, since universal adult suffrage was embraced in the country (Kerr, 1993).
The leading political parties draw a rift between the people. In the long-run, the elections become disrupted by the antagonism drawn. This is mostly a struggle for economic survival by “garrison” communities (Kerr, 1993).The term garrison was coined by Professor Carl Stonein the 1980s to describe the political behavior, where there is fanatical loyalty and support to one political party, which results also in castigating supporters of the other side. Anyone, who opposed the locally dominant party, would be in danger. Continued residence in the locality would be extremely difficult.
Garrisons had their origin in the state housing projects. The dwelling units were allocated by henchmen to party supporters. The broader objective was to create homogenous political zones that would benefit the political party.
There are ties that historically bind criminal gangs and politicians. Most of the gangs received logistical support from the political class. In the recent past, a significant amount of their revenue was coming from drug dealing and other criminal activities; however, most of the gangsters maintained a political allegiance. Many researchers have proposed that the politicians are more beholden to the gangs, and not the opposite. Political parties now provide drug dealers and other criminal gangs with the safe havens, which protect them from the outsiders including the police. This is after the homogeneity of political divisions seems to be diminished, and the locals became more loyal to their criminal or social orders.
The garrison system raises questions as to whether the results reflect the true will of the people or a compromised and coerced will. The power-elite model of politics states that although a nation may be classified as being democratic, a few people of influence determine the way the country is run. These few individuals belong to the ranks of business and social leaders, as well as to the criminal gangs. While they may not necessarily have positions of influence and power in the government, they wield the power of coercion and blackmail, especially through lobbyists and political funding (Kornblum, 2003).
Jamaica only needs to transform by strengthening its democratic institutions and practices. There is also an ever-increasing desire to realize the potential of the Jamaican economy by redesigning its existing market economy.
Most researchers have classified Jamaican democracy as a democracy, which is based on patronage. The downside to this fact is that patronage is accompanied by the political violence. There is also an intense polarization in the country. Criminal violence and behavior are quite prosperous. This has earned itself the term ”political tribalism” between political rivals and their constituents.
It has become increasingly herculean for either major parties to acquire an entirely new constituency in terms of supporters aside from the loyal and long serving members of the parties. This has largely been attributed to the fundamental reforms undertaken in the electoral system. This also includes the reform of the procedures on the Election Day itself. Prior to and during the elections of 2002, the powers of influential party members had been significantly eroded. The parties’ bosses in the strongholds still restrict the customary democratic rules and freedoms. This is certainly no longer the case for the whole of Jamaica.
The democratic system in Jamaica is very stable and consolidated. There is still a very high level of discontent with the quality of that democracy. It is typical for the citizens of Jamaica to argue against the existence of racial and ethnic tensions, as well as problems within their society. The party system regulating the political parties is stable, but excessively polarized. Many scholars have recommended loosening the rigidity of the bi-party system in the interest of a qualitatively better democracy. This has been found to be a limiting factor and a stumbling block to the political development.
Political parties do not have much of a following from the members of the upper social class and middle classes. It is found to be highly attributed to the parties’ links with the violent crime representatives. Their confrontational and stalemating policies have also been a contributing factor. Notwithstanding the factors mentioned above, the approval for democracy in Jamaica is very high. However, the dissatisfaction with the quality of Jamaica’s democracy is growing amongst the citizens.
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The urban poor have seemingly rebelled against the system. The movement, which is directed towards the system, seems to be widespread and gaining momentum. There is no clear-cut line between the organized crime, party politics, racketeering, and drug trafficking. Security and order in the country, as well as other social and economic benefits, are guaranteed by the non-state criminal actors in the slums.
Penal standards can collide with the values and behavioral patterns of the majority of the population, for example, legalization of the popular drug, marijuana. A stronger civil society may be what Jamaica needs for the purposes of robust democratic institutions and effective practices. Apathy has reduced, and political participation has substantially improved in the individual areas.
Garrison constituencies have reduced considerably since the mid-1990s. The typical election behavior for the political strongholds has considerably dropped. In general, the citizens are gradually turning away from the patronage-based system. Democracy is well-recognized as a system of government, remains stable, and is not questioned.
The toxic culture of political patronage undermines Jamaica's collective national interests. Patronage politics still exerts too much influence on the government policies. This is more often than not at the detriment and expense of the national interests. This necessitates the urgent need for structures, policies, and processes to protect future generations from the effects of political practices that harm collective national interest, but are aligned with the interests of politicians and political parties, and harm the national interest.
Patronage politics is not a creation of mind; it is neither an abstract, nor an illogical construction. It is the means, by which they acquire and maintain power and control over the resources of the nation. Civil society needs to take a stand. Governments seem to be reluctant and unable to change the patronage political system, unless compelled to do so. To end practices that cause patronage politics to subvert democracy and national interests, the civil society should take the forefront and partner with other stakeholders to enshrine this issue on the national agenda.
Citizens have a right to access the public information. They have a right to know the donors of political parties, as well as what they donate. The citizens need to know the linkages between the donors and the beneficiaries. Jamaica is a great tourist destination, because of its mild climate, friendly people, and beautiful weather. The capital, Kingston, has consistently served as a symbolic unifying factor. The people of Jamaica can rely on the longevity of their capital to advance their democracy.
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