As Jamaicans head to the polls tomorrow to vote in the general elections on who should form the next government, we have to ask ourselves does the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) deserve to remain in office or should the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) get the keys to Jamaica House?
It is a tricky decision because neither the PNP or JLP have been that impressive during the past 4 1/2 years since the 2016 general election.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has developed his image of a strong leader but besides that his government of ministers have been, for the most part, below average. The PNP has been a very ineffective opposition due to poor leadership and its lack of a intricate publicity machine. which is essential for today’s politics.
We have seen in recent general elections where the sitting government has been booted by the electorate after serving just one term. Prior to that period there was a time decades ago when a governing party were given the chance to serve at least consecutive terms. But these days the electorate cannot be taken for granted and this has led to shock results in recent general elections.
My view is that the JLP does not deserve a 2nd term. Opinion polls say differently. But the PNP under Peter Phillip’s leadership has not shown the passion and desire to seize this moment.
This election battle between the JLP vs PNP race is like a 12 round championship boxing match where the champion held on to victory (despite a poor performance) only because the judges felt the challenger did not do enough to wrest the title away.
The JLP has been superb at public relations since coming coming to power in 2016. They brought an air of confidence and assurance to the public. At times the confidence bordered on arrogance and the JLP would push back hard on any constructive criticism. JLP was smart in highlighting – each day in the local news and via the various government information platforms – the promises delivered and other achievements.
Their PR machine is reminiscent of the Tony Blair administration in the UK. The Holness government has taken spin to new heights in the landscape of Jamaican politics and government. But the overall performance of ministers has been poor and could explain why Holness had so many ministers without portfolio sitting in the Office of the Prime Minister department.
JLP has disappointed the wider electorate on so many fronts including:
- The JLP government’s over reliance on the state of public emergencies measures as their leading anti-crime tactic was one of the laziest crime fighting policies I have ever witnessed. It has made little difference but infringe on human rights and crushed the hopes of many small businesses.
- The endless government scandals of misuse of public funds, conflicts of interest and cronyism would have brought down governments in other jurisdictions.
- The sale or lease of former sugar lands to well connected figures without publicly disclosing the sale price was simply wrong. On this, the previous PNP administration was no different.
- The Holness alliance with Donald Trump was sad. Turning its back on Venezuela after all the years of cheap oil the South America nation had provided to Jamaica was uncalled for but Holness administration caved in to Trump’s coercion.
I was disappointed by the lukewarm stance taken by the Holness administration over the Windrush Scandal and the lack of enthusiasm by some ministers on the issue of reparations from Europe. To hear Kamina Johnson-Smith (foreign minister) state on the BBC World Service that Jamaicans need to move on from demanding reparations from European was disgraceful.
Final straw for me has been the government’s mishandling of the pandemic where at various stages their delay in closing borders, then opening the borders and deciding on this general election- right in the middle of the pandemic spiking – showed a lack of forward planning and due diligence. August 27 the total number of COVID-19 positives was 1870, 5 days later the number rose sharply to 2683.
But I will give credit to Olivia “Babsy” Grange over her handling of the sports, culture and gender portfolios. Babsy has made her mark on a number of key issues and credit must go to her and her team for putting forward legislation to tackle sexual harassment.
Special mention too on the work carried out at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security under leadership of the late minister Shahine Robinson.
I have to give the government credit for some of the internet friendly platforms they have introduced to simplify certain administration processes.
The PNP leadership has failed to impress on the public that they are a viable alternative and Phillips has languished behind Holness in all the various opinion polls on their respective leadership qualities.
Phillips has been uninspiring and not showed the energy, hunger or charisma that would appeal to the wider electorate. On many occasions Phillips was missing in action when the JLP were on the ropes.
What has helped the PNP has been the work of a number of opposition members who have been steadfast in holding the government accountable. e.g. Peter Bunting, Mark Golding, Dayton Campbell and Mikael Phillips were some who did sterling work.
It is an indictment of the PNP leadership that Phillips’ best moment since becoming leader came last Saturday’s in the televised debate he had with Holness. Although Phillips’ response to the lack women in parliament was from a bygone age.
Unlike any local or by-election since 2016 the PNP has stepped up their marketing to levels not seen since the 2000s. The marketing of the PNP is no way as slick as the JLP’s but you can clearly see that Bunting has had a major influence into the electioneering since becoming co-campaign chair.
However, I have to question the wisdom of Bunting having political TV adverts just of himself performing in parliament. It as if he is preparing for the leadership race in the PNP should his party lose tomorrow.
I have not followed both parties manifesto that seriously, as given the pandemic and squeeze on economies across the globe many of the pledges promised by both parties in their manifesto will remain just that – pledges.
Here, the PNP could have done a better job on its key pledges by just keeping its message simple and aspirational.
The plan by the PNP to subsidize utility bills was an overreach and was confusing when their various spokespersons tried justifying its cost. One this matter the PNP could have simply pledged to bring more competition to the utilities market in order to drive prices down and improve quality.
The JLP has not been as bold in its pledges as it did in the 2016 election and has relied heavily on its achievements and promising more of the same.
The polls have been consistent on a JLP victory by a wide margin. But voter turnout will be interesting given the inclement weather and the spike in COVID-19 numbers.
However, the name on every one’s lips during this brief election cycle is not Peter Phillips or Andrew Holness or any member of either party. The name that got people talking is the independent candidate in Manchester Central – Rohan Chung – who has posted adverts across the various media platforms especially at peak times which must cost big bucks.
Who is Rohan Chung?