2007 has been quite the eventful year for the Caribbean – we've had hurricanes and earthquakes, rap stars behaving badly and Nobel Laureates behaving badly, not to mention the infamous terror plot. Sadly, the year was also marked by tragedy and escalating crime – but if the Caribbean were to pick a recurring theme for Y2K7, it would have to be elections.
This was the year of regional politics, with elections being held in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas and Bermuda and municipal elections even happening in Cuba. Not to mention, Barbados’ elections are scheduled to take place on January 15th – which is why, when reflecting upon the Global Voices Caribbean post that has had the most impact this year, it was a fairly easy choice: Caribbean: Elections Go Web 2.0 – simply because it asks whether citizen media can “genuinely and profoundly influence the outcome of a political election” in the context of the region's “small, close-knit populations, relatively low internet penetration, and the continuing primacy of the mainstream media as a source of information.”
I'd like to think the answer is yes and that this post has made Caribbean nationals rethink the role of citizen reporting and how it can change the world.
The access and availability of the internet in many Caribbean nation-states is still some what limited.Consequently,the impact may not be profound.Also,factors such as demographics–education,social class,urban-rural,etc.– have to be considered in terms of internet influence on elections.Most people that/who have access to the internet are midlle-class professionals,hence,a major digital divide or chasm.Interestingly,and specifically,in the case of Jamaica, political parties have their power base within the ranks of the poor and the working class and the internet has not penetrated this social strata of Jamaican society.Notwithstanding,the impact will definitely be positive in the medium term as more people from the various social classes become more exposed to the internet,either via the mainstream media or by private bloggers/citizen media.RESPECT!
In the case of The Bahamas, the two major political parties made significant use of the internet. In fact, one might say campaign 2007 opened up the portal to cyberspace for Bahamian politics in an unforeseen way – prior to the campaign, the only political website of note was one whose authorship is questioned by one side of the political divide. In the aftermath of the election, the former government is using its website (launched during the election) as a major point of contact between party heirarchy, especially the leader, Perry Christie, and supporters. The government of the day, headed by a successful Hubert Ingraham, makes less use of its website, being the government of the day. But during the campaign itself, the internet was used as a platform for launching policy documents, campaign planks, proposed initiatives and candidate character peices. The fact that the internet has relatively widespread penetration in The Bahamas gave the move to cyberspace great power. I would be hard pressed to say that the internet had a profound effect on the outcome of the election, but I would say that it certainly played a major role in allowing the FNM – now the government – to paint itself as a party with a better grasp on forward-thinking policies and a finger on the pulse of world trends, as well as a party of deadlines (one theme repeatedly sounded by the FNM was “late again!” – the PLP allowed themselves to be painted as a party that missed deadline after deadline on matters great and small). The FNM launched its website when they said they would, and with what most considered better and more useful content than could be found on the PLP website. What effect that, and the general use of the internet had on the election is, as I say, beyond me to guess. What it did signify, though, was that through the internet and through private radio and television stations, the opposition party (then the FNM) had a major tool with which to counter what they saw as the manipulation of the state media by the then government (PLP). In that it allowed the FNM to get its message out, one could say that it had a major effect on the election.