Analysis by Rickey Singh
LAST THURSDAY’S landslide parliamentary victory by the People’s National Party (PNP) that crushed the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party with a whopping 19-seat majority for the new 63-member House of Representatives, may have been a shocker for both contestants as much as for the leading pollsters. In the final stages of the election campaign, the pollsters felt constrained to be cautious to the point of declaring it was “too close to call,” except for one poll that projected a likely four per cent winning edge for the PNP.
For her part, and in sharp contrast to the cautious JLP’s new leader, 39-year-old Andrew Holness — who has been Prime Minister for just two months before Thursday’s election– the PNP’s 66-year-old leader and seasoned political veteran, Portia Simpson-Miller, kept forecasting her party’s return to government.
It is, however, doubtful that Simpson-Miller, who may well delay an expected weekend ceremonial oath-taking as new Prime Minister for either tomorrow or Tuesday, ever envisaged such an overwhelming, popular victory when the preliminary results were declared shortly after midnight on Friday.
Or, for that matter, whether Holness and his team of strategists had preferred to ignore the negative signals coming from more than even marginal constituencies as they kept hope alive for a return to government.
A recount, that remained controversial at the time of writing, saved Trade Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, a deputy JLP leader, from defeat by 101 votes amid ongoing reports of a low voter response (estimated at 51.03 per cent), and as Jamaicans await the overall final results.
And, as Simpson-Miller, the darling ‘Sister P’ of the PNP, finalises arrangements to take the oath as Prime Minister, now armed with a popular mandate in her own right — as distinct from the less-than-a-year stint when she succeeded the retired P.J. Patterson—some analysts were already making comparisons with the results of the September 2007 election .
Then, the electorate stood at approximately 1.3 million, and the voter response was estimated at 61.05 per cent. The JLP had defeated the incumbent PNP by six seats for the then 60-member House of Representatives. For Thursday’s poll, the eligible electorate had increased by some 310,000 voters. But those who boycotted the process were almost 10 per cent more than non-voters for the 2007 poll.
Message for Barbados?
Naturally, there will be offerings from varying perspectives on why Simpson-Miller’s PNP is now in such a dominant position in government, while the young ex-Prime Minister Holness contemplates his challenges ahead as leader of the defeated JLP.
In the context of parliamentary politics within the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), one message sent by the Jamaican electorate would undoubtedly be of deep concern to the Barbados government of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart — bad news for first-time, one-term administrations.
The JLP’s defeat was the second for a one-term administration since last month’s (Nov. 28) return to state power of Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party that secured a decisive parliamentary victory over the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP) of Stephenson King.
Currently, Stuart’s governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is faced with a serious internal squabble focused on the ‘leadership style’ of the Prime Minister, who felt it necessary a fortnight ago to publicly warn that “heads will roll.”
That warning has led to speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle which could well precede arrangements for a snap general election in 2012. A new, scheduled election is a year away.