This is PNP Country. Case Closed.
The polls said it would be close, the pundits opined that it was anybody’s race to win; but when the dust settled on Thursday night, Jamaicans made one thing explicitly clear, this is PNP country. In what was a stunning electoral upset, the Opposition People’s National swept the ruling Jamaica Labour Party from power in spectacular style, winning 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
I admit myself baffled, genuinely shocked, at the results of the general election and so I took a few days to mull it over and to see if I could make sense of the very strong signal the electorate sent to the Labour Party. Generally, election results tend to favour the incumbent Government. In the United States for instance, only George Bush Senior and Jimmy Carter were sent packing in recent times. Here in Jamaica, the PNP enjoyed 18 unbroken years in office, the Governments of Patrick Manning in Trinidad and Tobago and Owen Arthur in Barbados also enjoyed longevity and the confidence of the electorate. Then beginning in 2006, this changed. The electorate swept these governments from power and installed new governments under the guise of change. Now less than 5 years later, the electorate has seen it fit to return the PNP to power and I ask, why?
Firstly, I believe the Manatt/Dudus fiasco damaged the Labour party. Understanding that he could not lead the JLP into the next general election, the former party leader, Bruce Golding, stepped aside in an effort to give the JLP a fighting chance, and for awhile, it seemed to have worked. However, what became clear on Thursday night is that Jamaicans had neither forgiven the JLP for it, nor had they forgotten. This has led me to conclude that this was not a rejection of Andrew Holness, as I’ve heard suggested in some quarters, but rather, this is punishment of the JLP. Mr. Holness, I believe, enjoys the confidence of Jamaicans, but he leads a party that apparently does not. The Jamaican people finally got to be heard. They got to voice displeasure at the half truths they were told, they got to hold the commission of enquiry in contempt and they got to exact justice for the 77 that died in West Kingston. This demonstrates that if Jamaicans summon their collective will, nothing can stop us and that when we speak in one voice, governments will have to listen and fall quiet to our demands. Admittedly, the move by Golding may have been perceived as an attempt to hoodwink the electorate, it could very well be that this did not go unnoticed and the Jamaican people interpreted it to be an insult to their collective intelligence and therefore rejected it in an overwhelming manner.
Secondly, the issue of the public sector; it’s generally never a good idea to be at odds with this section of the electorate. The JLP was constantly at odds with groups such as the teachers, the nurses and even the police officers over wage issues. The resolution of these issues was not without conflict and often times the Golding administration took a very high handed approach towards the negotiations. This might have hurt the JLP at the polls on Thursday, especially considering there was so much talk of massive cuts in the public sector. Jamaicans weren’t ready for the bitter medicine the JLP had proposed. I think our people prefer the easy way out, without considering the long term repercussions. Simpson Miller is right when she says the JLP was balancing the books but not balancing people’s lives. This of course leads to the question of how far the state and government should intervene and seek to “balance” people’s lives.
The JLP might have suffered because of the decision to include the new voters list in this election. I do not believe that it is by chance that the PNP demanded that the elections be called on that list. They had to have been assured that this additional 40, 000 people would be able to swing the election in their favour. When we look at the margins of victory in some constituencies, we realise it is well above 2000, this tells me that new voters must have contributed to this, or JLP supporters either abstained from voting or voted for the PNP. The reason for this could very well be that the JLP failed to do enough work on the ground in these constituencies; the PNP had a four year head start and the JLP wasn’t able to counter that. I didn’t get the impression that the JLP was paying attention to the election on a constituency by constituency basis, but rather at a general national level, centred largely on Andrew Holness. In fact, it has been reported that labourties felt the MP’s abandoned them once they had won and abandoned the divisional councillors. We all saw the protests against the method the JLP was using to install candidates, even against the wishes of the constituents. The election war was therefore not waged at the constituency level, but at a national level. In retrospect, this wasn’t a good idea, considering it back fired on the PNP in 2007, when they made their party leader the centre of their campaign and waged a national fight. The campaign was therefore about Holness and his youth and hope, but what about the team that he would lead? Was this group really that different? That surely stood out in the minds of the electorate.
The G2K did the JLP a great disservice in this election. The ads went too far in waging personal attacks and I think it contradicted the image the JLP was trying to put forward, an image of a new politics. Jamaicans seems to have rejected the character assassination of Mrs. Simpson Miller by G2K, the young affiliate group was not realising that the things they were holding her to account for largely no longer existed. She had come a far way, whether she has come far enough is another matter. The contradiction between the image the JLP was putting forward and the attacks being waged by the G2K suggested a disconnect between the party and its youth movement, which then brought into question the credibility of the “new politics” Holness was proposing. The rants against the media also contributed to the Labour party’s electoral misfortunes. It is never a good idea for a political party to attack, in any way, the media. In an election, the media can make or break you. If the allegation that G2K had published the contact information of media personnel and asked the public to contact them and demand the re-instatement of ads, this is unacceptable and ought not to be tolerated in any sense. When one considers the G2K’s contribution overall, it becomes clear they did more harm than good; quite the opposite from 2007.
That said, the numbers suggest that this was one of the lowest voter turn outs in recent history. The PNP won by some 57,000 votes overall and this tells me that they won because they were able to energise their base and get the vote out. I’d like to pause here and register my disappointment that Dr. Christopher Tufton has not been re-elected. He was one of the better Members of Parliament and should have been allowed to continue his work.
Finally, I want to congratulate Portia Simpson Miller. I once stated that she risked becoming a footnote in the history of the premiership, I retract that. With this victory, Simpson Miller has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she is a strong politician. She has risen above character assassination, comments against her intelligence and competence to deliver a stunning electoral victory. This should sufficiently silence her detractors, the Jamaican people chose her above the promise of youth and hope. She has her own mandate, directly from the Jamaican people. Case Closed. I would caution Mrs. Simpson Miller to ensure she delivers, otherwise, Jamaicans may just show her the door come the next election; assuming she intends to stay the full course.
The election is now over and we have to move forwards as one; while some of us may not agree with the results, we should support the new government in their quest to find solutions to our problems. I hope the Holness led Opposition, assuming he isn’t challenged for leadership of the JLP, will hold the PNP to account and prove themselves to be a credible and strong Opposition, despite their numbers. Jamaicans have spoken; the argument has been put to rest. Our electorate went out and painted the town orange. I repeat, case closed.