Congrats to the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for their drubbing of the Peter Phillips-led People’s National Party (PNP) in Thursday’s general election.
The opinion polls have long predicted a seismic victory for the governing JLP administration but few believed such a winning margin was really possible.
Even some JLP supporters were stunned by the size of their win but we know from previous Jamaican elections such big victories could turnaround quickly by the time the electorate next goes to the polls.
The PNP lost badly with many of its senior figures tasting defeat for the first time in their lengthy political careers. The defeats of leadership hopefuls Peter Bunting and Wykham McNeil is a blow to the party’s chances of having a vigorous race to succeed Phillips.
The JLP deserved their victory. They have been an aggressive force since returning to power. They started their campaign from as far back as March 2016 with slick marketing and positive smart targeted messaging while the PNP were still licking their wounds after losing power in February 2016.
The PNP defeat was on the cards the minute Peter Phillips became leader. As PNP leader, Phillips never really presented himself to Jamaicans on a regular basis. He relied on his past record as a former government minister in some of the big portfolios as his main pitch.
Normally when a leader of the opposition is constantly performing below par, the party powerbrokers tend to dump them before the general election is due. The PNP paid a heavy price for staying loyal to Phillips even when they could see clearly he was out of his depth. He just never had the political antennae to be a successful leader of the PNP.
The less said about Phillips’ handlers for not giving him a reality check; especially after he barely won the leadership race against rival Peter Bunting in 2019. At that moment Phillips should have walked away gracefully.
The JLP clearly appealed to a cross section of the electorate and the party’s push to put forward more female candidates worked perfectly. Here, the PNP has been rather languid in attracting (or keeping) more talented and appealing young men and women into front line politics. No surprise if we see some young comrades switching to the JLP if the PNP remains stagnant.
The JLP did put in the ground work years ago and never let up. On election day they got their base out whatever their ages and by any means necessary.
The PNP with just 14/15 MPs has little space to shuffle to choose Phillips’ successor. Maybe the next PNP leader will be in the senate (Upper House) in the interim.
The PNP needs to move quickly to choose their next leader and not wait over a year as they did in 2016 when then leader/former PM Portia Simpson-Miller held the lame duck position for too long. Phillips was formally appointed Leader of the Opposition in April 2017 succeeding Simpson-Miller, despite the PNP losing the general election way back in February 2016.
The PNP can take solace from the fact that just 37% of the electorate voted in the general election. [Even Afghanistan had a 45% turnout in their 2018 election despite the challenges Afghans faced from endless violent threats and attacks by the Talibans and Jihadists.]
The voter turnout in the last 2 general elections was under 50% and could imply that neither the JLP or PNP is appealing to the growing number of independents out there. Clearly there is room for some new genuine political force to attract independents and those turned off of the 2 main parties.
But the PNP will have to get their act together quickly and start develop that winning habit with the local government election also due (voter turnout in the 2016 version was 30%).
Another immediate test will come whenever Phillips resigns from his safe-ish seat which will lead to a by-election. The JLP machine may feel confident to take that seat from the PNP given the strong showing last week from their candidate Jodian Myrie.
With so many parliamentarians to choose from, Holness has the space now to craft out a cabinet of his own choosing.
I would expect the likes of Mike Henry will take his seat on the back benches and focus on his football club. No surprise to see a Holness cabinet includes the return of Andrew Wheatley and Pearnel Charles Jr. Floyd Green would expect to be promoted. It will be interesting to see if Christopher Tufton holds on to the health portfolio. Fascinating also to see how many women will make up both the cabinet or join the junior ministerial ranks.
Will Juliet Holness be in the cabinet?
Wheel and come again PNP. Jamaicans deserve an effective, modern and aspirational opposition that proves itself to be a realistic government in waiting.
If not, there is room in today’s political landscape for some emerging party that has the funds, philosophy and finesse to seize the initiative and impress on the 67% doubting electorate.
But for now once again green is king and queen.