By Carlton Joseph
Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) says it was satisfied that last week’s general election in Jamaica was “conducted fairly and in the main free from fear”. The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was returned to power, winning 48 seats to the People’s National Party (PNP) 15 seats. The huge margin of victory, gives the JLP the mandate to implement its policy Programmes, but it also suggests that the voters are expecting the party to deliver on its promises.
The trouncing of the PNP was such that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his first address to the nation, said that with such a large and convincing mandate, the greater challenge would be to regulate and control the behavior of those forming the majority. He warned that arrogance and those who held the view that it was a “free for all” would not be entertained. He said: “This mandate is not about them, it is about the people, no princes or princesses were elected…we are servants of the people.” I totally concur with his assessment.
Preliminary figures reveal an unprecedented low voter turnout of less than 40 per cent, which means that the great majority of the approximately 1.9 million people registered to vote, chose not to do so. COVID-19 definitely had an effect as older people, especially those with serious underlying health conditions and more vulnerable to contracting the disease, stayed away. However, this is the trend in dysfunctional democracies; people decide not to vote because they are so disappointed in the political leadership, they no longer wish to participate.
Many believe that supporters of the PNP stayed away because of infighting that has plagued that party as well as a paucity of confidence in its leadership. The Jamaica Observer reported that Jamaicans across the United States reacted with shock over the results of the general election. Many were amazed at how many seats the party lost, especially those in the frontline leadership positions who were defeated, and believed that the acrimonious leadership contest last year had damaged the party.
During the final debate series hosted by the Jamaica Debates Commission the issue of gender equality in Parliament was raised. Dionne Jackson Miller asked if the leaders would commit to selecting at least 50 per cent women to the Senate.
PNP leader Dr. Phillips replied; I think we also need to understand that there are many factors that impede women’s participation. The support for childcare, for example, in the House of Representatives and Senate, and generally, is one factor; the fact that women carry a greater share of household work is also another factor. “So, actually, getting the right level of representation is going to take more than just a commitment, we are going to have to deal with all of these other factors that really impede women’s full participation.”
Rebutting during the debate, Holness said the “simple” thing to do is to ensure that more women are targeted in the party’s recruiting.
“We have done that in the Jamaica Labour Party. We have been deliberate in going out and seeking to recruit women, and now we have more female candidates representing the party than ever before.” With the election of the 18 women last Thursday, 14 for the JLP and four for the PNP it is obvious that the JLP’s women recruitment drive paid off.
Paul Burke, a former PNP general secretary, launched a harsh criticism of his party, saying the president and national officers “must take full responsibility for their indecisive, if not cowardly non-action.” And that the party was broke, divided, lacking in discipline and direction, and outspent by a “grossly cash-rich JLP” 20 to 1. Burke also had some venom for the victorious JLP, saying it had reaped all the fruits planted by the previous PNP Administration and had more resources “to spend and boast about, and to loot.”
To understand the JLP’s victory I decided to review the promises they made in the past five years. My research revealed that they delivered on most promises.
The JLP delivered on some of the promises it made in the past five years. It restored the benefits at the Junior Stock Market to grow equity financing for start-up and expansion of small to medium-size businesses. It reformed the tax system, lowered taxes and got rid of the PAYE for everyone who earned a basic salary of J$1.5 million or less annually. It listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange several state-owned enterprises such as the UDC and Factories Corporation enabling them to attract investment capital. Reduced interest rates on mortgages, made several reforms to the National Housing Trust, including increasing the loan ceiling.
However, it failed to deliver on the major water project it commissioned, and it also failed to implement the Apprenticeship Programme and a National Service Programme that was supposed to develop knowledge, skills and attitude to attract higher-value investments and more meaningful jobs.
The PNP, in its manifesto, proposed to construct 130,000 housing units over five years and undertake a rent-to-own programme, where individuals pay rent for a consistent period, a portion of which goes towards the down payment, later transitioning to ownership through a mortgage. And, Jamaicans seeking to own their first house may be able to claim up to one year’s income tax for the purpose of a home purchase. The PNP also pledged to give 370,000 families across the island a direct deposit of $4,000 each month towards their electricity and water bills.
The result of the election indicates that the people did not buy the “pie in the sky” promises of the PNP.
Holness was able to woo PNP voters and keep his voters by embracing Michael Manley, claiming that his own mission, of social justice and economic empowerment; was inspired by Manley and his political mentor, Edward Seaga. He intoned: “So let me be clear to my friends and otherwise that I respect and love Michael Manley, and I value his work and his contribution to making us who we are. That can never be devalued, and I want to, therefore, put that to rest.”
Holness also acknowledged that the narrative of corruption had dogged his administration and emphasized that his government does not stand for corruption. He promised to deal firmly with the stigma of corruption and said that his government will not be arrogant or take the people for granted.
I am elated that the young PM was able to defeat his much older adversary. It is time for the older politicians leave the stage and allow the young people to create the world in which they want to live.
Finally, congratulations to Holness and the JLP on this astounding victory. Jamaicans have spoken. He must now assist his people in seizing the opportunities he identified as the technological revolution that would ensure economic progress: Artificial intelligence, renewable energy, 3D manufacturing, and other innovations.
It is time for Jamaicans and other Caribbean peoples to walk on our two feet and not on our knees.