SEEKING THE SUPPORT OF RELIGIOUS BODIES

Christian Denominations collectively have the longest association, the most granular contacts, the furthest reach, the most systematic communication and regular personal interaction with communities compared to any other type of organisations in Jamaica. The influence of the Christian Denominations collectively goes beyond their membership and regular visitors. Even Jamaicans who are not Christians, or who are nominal, have close personal relations, regular churchgoers. They are most likely to hear about aspects of Sunday and Saturday sermons, matters discussed at weekly Bible study and issues raised at prayer meetings. Further, many denominations are involved in community outreach activities, programs, and projects. As a consequence, the Electoral Advisory Committee, in its preparation for the General Elections of 2002, deliberately sought the support of Christian denominations.

The areas of support that the EAC sought the assistance from Ministers and leaders of Christian Denominations were:

  1. The exhortation of citizens to exercise their franchise to vote as a part of their obligation and responsibility in democratic governance.
  2. Explicit and unequivocal support for the need to transform the electoral system and for the policies and measures being implemented by the EAC.
  3. Engagement in peace management efforts in constituencies where politics, political allegiance, and contests for political power could trigger conflict between community members leading to violence.
  4. Encouragement of candidates, their Campaign staff, and indoor and outdoor agents to perform their assigned duties not only competently but to the highest ethical standards.

The strategy employed by the EAC was to invite Ministers of Religion and other church leaders in each of the fourteen parishes to meeting with Selected Members of the EAC supported by the senior staff of the EOJ. Some parishes had a Ministers’ Fraternal which had regular meetings while others did not. This meant varied efforts and arrangements to hold these meetings. At each of these meetings, a comprehensive account was given of the policies measures being implemented by the EAC. This was followed by a time for open questions, the only limit being the time that ministers could devote to the exercise. Returning officers became persons of contact and follow-up.

The support given by Church Leaders in their respective denominations and geographical regions exceed expectations. Particularly impressive was engaged in peace management efforts. In several parishes and constituencies Christian leaders, acting ecumenically, organized meetings with candidates and their supporters with a view to coming to an agreement to engage in healthy competition while maintaining peace in their areas. In this regard, the EAC was taking into and extending some of the work and successful strategies of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) an NGO in which the Political Ombudsman, highest an outstanding Church Leader, had played a significant role. The major difference was that the EAC was engaging the support of Ministers and leaders of Christian Denominations in a preventative exercise rather than in interventions where problems had arisen.

 

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