Reflections on Jamaican Elections (2016)
The focus on elections has led to unnecessary drama in Jamaica, since the general election in February. When analysing the Local Government election, we want persons to avoid making the same mistakes they did in analysing the general election in February.
Many persons became political commentators overnight, and arrived at big conclusions about why the JLP won and why the PNP lost, despite the election result being so marginal. The difference between support for the 2 main parties was less than 4,000 votes.
The JLP marginally won the election, receiving 49.5% of the votes and 32 seats, while the PNP received 49.2% of the votes and 31 seats. Neither party had the support of a majority of the people who turned out to vote, and the people who turned out to vote were not even a majority of the persons who were registered to vote.
Over 1.8 million people were registered to vote, and less than a half of them turned out to support the 2 main political parties. The JLP only convinced 436,972 persons to turn out to vote for them, which is just 23.95% of the registered voters, while the PNP convinced 433,735 person to turn out to vote for them, accounting for only 23.77% of the registered voters.
Yet, immediately after the election results were finalised, persons rushed to find every reason that the JLP won and that the PNP had lost. Yes, it is understood that some government must be formed to continue to oversee and carry out the day-to-day functions of the public sector, and it is simply a fact of life for the moment that no-one had received more support to do so than the JLP. Still, there is a big problem here that is not being discussed; it is not only the PNP, but both the PNP and the JLP that failed to convince people to turn out to support them. We often talk about which party "won" or "lost" the election, because a party had to win, and another party had to lose, but it overlooks the point that both parties are unpopular; both parties lack support and the ability to mobilise a majority of the registered voters to turn out to support them.
This should be considered a failure, or a loss, for both parties, not just for the PNP. The JLP only won the general election by chance, not because they were better, but because the PNP had become worse. The PNP was already in power before the election; if the people wanted to get rid of the PNP so badly, there would have been a big rush to vote against them, but that was not the case. Voter turnout was extremely low, showing that there was no rush to get rid of the PNP. Both parties had roughly equal levels of support in the election. It just happens that a party had to win, and it was the JLP, but it does not mean that the JLP is popular. Both parties are, at this point, unpopular; it is simply that the PNP is more unpopular. It really seems as if most Jamaicans don't even care which party wins.
Still, the way the election was discussed would give the impression that the JLP won a landslide victory, and that the PNP was defeated beyond any possibility of making a comeback. This narrative was adopted by both JLP and PNP supporters. JLP supporters used it to ignore the fact that their party was unpopular. PNP supporters used the narrative to claim that the JLP had "deceived Jamaica" with its proposal to reduce the income tax burden. Some even used it to say that "Andrew won and Portia lost, so Portia should resign" - completely ignoring that the PNP never received less than 49% of the votes in any of the 3 elections it contested while she was the leader.
This has led to party infighting, as murmurs go on about who should replace the party leader, and the party even put a lot of effort into studying why they lost the election. If they had received just enough votes to win another constituency, and they had won the election, they would still not have been a popular party, but would they care? No; they only care about whether they win or lose elections. Both parties have become out of touch with the people, the constituents that they should be representing. Now, with infighting, the PNP is digging its own grave.
The PNP needs to do some soul-searching to remember why it has so much support, or it will continue to lose more of it. The party was once the voice for Socialism in Jamaica, but "Socialism" is just a word from the old days now, not something the party is committed to achieving as it smiles and shakes hands with the IMF. If it fails to water its Socialist roots, it will find itself withering away. It cannot continue to use Socialist rhetoric and invoke Socialist nostalgia to gain support, then turn its back on Socialism when it is time to sit at the table with brown businessmen and white foreigners.
What we must avoid is the mistake of assuming that the PNP cannot come back from this. Who foresaw the PNP making a comeback after bitter power struggles between Simpson-Miller and Phillips? Who foresaw the JLP making a comeback after the PNP won 42-21 in the general election in 2011, or after the JLP failed to win even 1 parish council in 2012, or after the bitter infighting in the leadership contest between Holness and Shaw in 2013?
Yes, note that right there; the JLP failed to win even 1 parish council in the Local Government election in 2012, but did it mean anything apart from the PNP enjoying a political honeymoon? Surely the PNP can make a comeback from its losses in 2016, if it stops exaggerating its losses, and if it focuses on building itself instead of tearing itself apart.
A big mistake is exaggerating the win of the JLP in the general election in February. The political crisis in Jamaica is not about the falling support for the PNP, but rather the falling support of both parties. That becomes more evident when we look at the real numbers instead of focusing on who wins and who loses. The Jamaican masses are not being mobilised to vote for either major party, and they do not seem involved enough in the decisions made by the government.
Local Government Election
No party really "wins" or "loses" the Local Government elections on a national level. Outside of symbolism and having the right to brag, it really does not matter which party wins more parish councils. Where it does matter which party wins, it makes more sense for the ruling party to win so that there is no conflict between the local government and the central government, i.e. no stories about the government neglecting specific parish councils because of who is in charge.
As usual, the turnout for the Local Government elections is extremely low, and it therefore serves no purpose in attempting to prove that either party is truly popular. The only thing that can be said is that the JLP was able to mobilise more voters than the PNP, but this does not mean that the JLP is popular. The symbolism of the JLP "winning" the Local Government elections is nothing more than a distraction from the fact that they are almost as unpopular as the PNP, and that they barely have the support of the Jamaican masses. If the PNP had "won" in this low-turnout activity, it would still have been a distraction from the internal issues that they have failed to resolve.
As we said before, Local Government elections should not be about parties, but rather about how local representatives can best serve their communities. A party's national policies won't really matter when it comes down to issues that are specific to a division or parish. Even if the PNP won 10 parish councils, they would really have no national political power as a result of it. Parties should avoid imposing candidates on people, and instead have them freely chosen by the people who live in each division.
Another thing that caught our attention was the conversation about Democracy, and whether it is okay for persons to refuse to vote. Democracy is not about voting. Democracy is about people having power. If the power of the people is limited to voting, then they do not truly have power. Regardless of which politicians are elected, there must be ways for the people to constantly possess power in the country, not just once every few years when there is an election.
The pretentiously-smart liberals in this country don't know anything about Democracy beyond "exercising your democratic right to vote" - but what they need to understand is that they are in the minority. A majority of persons are refusing to turn out to vote, because they do not feel that elections give them any real power. Voting is a facade that we use to comfort ourselves, to pretend for a day that our politicians are not disconnected from the masses. There needs to be a revival of true Democracy in this country, and it will not happen by the ballot alone.