Portia must prove herself
Political analysts seem to be in harmony that Portia Simpson Miller now needs to rise and show her hand as she faces a new political opponent in the looming general election and convince a largely sceptical segment of the electorate that she can lead the country effectively.
They chorused that the PNP has done very little to shore up its popular base over the last two years, while the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was floundering under the weight of the Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke extradition controversy, as well as other pressures.
Richard ‘Dickie’ Crawford suggested that the People’s National Party (PNP) has made no great effort to win over the uncommitted voters, despite the problems which the JLP faced.
“The JLP would have been losing support to the point where it would have been next to impossible to win under Golding, which the polls also showed,” said Crawford.
“So the PNP stagnated, perched on a comfortable majority, aware that little effort would be needed to win the next election in this arrangement,” added Crawford.
The range of poll results over the past two years have demonstrated that the PNP remained stagnant in popular support, while the JLP has bobbed up and down on the popularity scale, in the midst of an eventful period.
The latest Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll, conducted on October 1 and 2 found the JLP only six percentage points behind the PNP as the party most Jamaicans would vote for if the election is called now.
That represents a big forward move for the JLP, which trailed the PNP by 10 percentage points when a similar question was asked by Johnson and his team of researchers in June.
This is the closest the JLP has come to the PNP since August 2009, when a similar six points separated the two parties.
“But the PNP has not moved from between 35 and 38 per cent for that entire period. It has been at 36 points, plus or minus two points, over 40 months,” the pollster noted.
Dr Hume Johnson believes that although Simpson Miller’s charisma and personality are wonderful elements leading to her good favour with the Jamaican electorate, this can only be sustained through greater access and a more substantive presence and engagement of the issues in the public arena rather than solely on a campaign stage.
“In an age of information, saturated by new media technologies, politics and political information is being packaged and marketed like a product,” asserted Johnson.
“Politicians have to look good and sound good in public. The political interview where you attempt to outline your policy and show off your substance is as important as your image and appearance (photo op, sound bites).”
Apart from the safe distance of the platform at political rally, in Parliament or a rare press conference, Simpson Miller, who has been frequently overseas throughout the past year, has failed to accommodate one-on-one interviews, leaving that activity to senior party members.
Quoting the American business magnate Warren Buffett, Professor Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies asserted: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
Clayton noted that while Buffett was referring to the fact that every financial adviser can look like an investment guru in a bull market, the analogy was relevant.
“When the economy is growing strongly, you can’t see who has made bad decisions and is exposed to risk,” he said. “Then, in a recession, all these weaknesses are rapidly and painfully exposed.”
Stressing that the same is true of Jamaica, Clayton said the 2010 World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index showed that Jamaica has fallen another 17 places over the last three years and now ranks 95th of the 132 nations surveyed.
“This is not primarily because Jamaica has done so badly, but because other countries have been doing much better, transforming their productive potential, economic growth rates and development prospects. As a result, Jamaica has been left further behind,” Clayton commented.
Johnson suggested that because the JLP under Golding made grave errors in governance over the last four years, the Opposition PNP for a time appeared to be a better option.
“The PNP ought to have seen their reasonably good poll numbers and the JLP’s perceived failings as cold comfort, and it didn’t,” she said.