Jamaican elections prove time longer than rope (for both PNP and JLP)

The JLP squeaked home and we have a new government. Despite Portia’s supremely ungracious ‘not conceding’ speech – she must have had coaching from her old friend Eddie Seaga – I shall miss her. We can count on the PNP spending the next year squabbling, and Peter Phillips trying to take over as PNP Party President and Leader of the Opposition within a year. This would be the best outcome for the JLP, since a Peter Phillips-led PNP will present no real alternative government. However, Portia has shown that she intends to fight on for now …….

“Farewell, My Lovely” (Dick Richards)

Looking back at the election

JLP candidates that won, generally won by healthy margins. Most ironic PNP loss is probably of the St Elizabeth South Eastern seat where sitting PNP MP Len Blake was pushed aside for flip flopping Norman Horne (PNP, JLP,PNP) only for Horne to be beaten by the JLP’s Franklyn Witter.

The pollsters were correct – Don Anderson was again the most accurate by giving the JLP the edge in an election that was “too close to call”.

The popular vote split 50/50 with the JLP edging the PNP by between 3,000 to 4,000 votes nationwide.

Looking forward

From the moment of Bruce Golding’s statesmanlike and conciliatory victory speech, the pundits began speculating about how long a Government with one seat majority in Parliament can last. Over the ensuing days the count shifted in favour of the JLP. In theory, a 33-27 majority could hold for 5 years.

However, this is unlikely, given that :-

(1) There are 3 magisterial recounts still in train (Duncan vs Gray, Douglas vs Peralto, Henry-Wilson vs Gordon-Webley), despite Peralto tying to ensure that the 2 remaining ballot boxes are not counted.

(2) Two JLP MP’s (Shahine Robinson and Gregory Mair) are known to fail the constitutional test for M.P.’s (no swearing of allegiance to a foreign country) in respect of their US and Venezuelan passports. Once these cases have proceeded through the courts, their PNP counterparts will be declared victors by default and the JLP would only have a 1 seat majority (one member of the governing party must act as Speaker of the House – now Mr. Delroy Chuck – and does not vote except to break a tie).

Knowing this is coming, Prime Minister Golding will concentrate on consolidating his popular support, in preparation for going back to the country sometime within the next two years. He has taken his first steps to ensure his M.P.’s stay in line – virtually everyone who won a seat on September 3rd is in the government as a Cabinet Minister(18), Minister of State (11) or Parliamentary Secretary (2). Unless the Prime Minister and the JLP really mess up, a Peter Phillips-led PNP will present no real alternative government, and Bruce should get an increased majority. (See UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson who was twice elected with (1) a majority of 4 in 1964, and (2) as a minority government in 1974 after the Conservatives under Edward Heath failed to form a coalition. On both occasions, he returned to the country within 18 months and won an increased majority.)

A Portia-led PNP is walking a high wire as well. If they push the Prime Minister to a too early election (within six months) they may alienate some of their own supporters. Portia also needs to get rid of some of the old guard, but even those who lost their seats like Horace Dalley will not like the prospect of getting ‘real jobs’, while senior figures like Peter Phillips cannot be moved short of a massively prestigious and lucrative international job. In favour of Portia and an early PNP return to office will be all those whose noses have been abruptly removed from the trough – as long as the JLP looks shaky in government these folk will work night and day to get Sister P back in office, their preference for Peter Phillips as leader not withstanding…..The PNP also has to deal with the fact that even if they win an election within the next two years, it is hardly likely that they will get a large majority of seats, so internal divisions have to dealt with now, or we could have the government changing hands several times in the next five or six years……..

In the meantime, expect us Jamaicans to get little change of course in the economy, and for the JLP both to concentrate on the poorer classes (free secondary education and free health care at public hospitals from April 2008) and to disappoint some of their well-heeled supporters when it comes to the immediate hand-out of jobs, contracts and other goodies.

Big JLP supporters like Gordon “Butch” Stewart”, owner of the Jamaica Observer and the Sandals/Beaches hotels, will expect (and get) quicker returns on their investment. Look for the government to finally start enforcing environmental regulations and labour laws at the Spanish hotels (those already built and those under construction) and look for these hotels to experience myriad “labour” and other troubles. The curse of the sea turtle will at last become apparent……

“V for Vendetta (Widescreen Edition)” (James McTeigue)

All in all, it seems to me that the election has had a most satisfactory outcome for the vast majority of Jamaicans who can expect a shaky government to pay lots of attention to meeting their needs for good health and education, jobs and better infrastructure, and who can expect non bread and butter issues (like constitutional change) to stay on the back burner……

Crime management ? Crime reduction ? Let’s wait and see.

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