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Jamaica’s lessons

Tennyson Joseph

Jamaica’s lessons

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DESPITE THE PREDICTIONS of most leading pollsters in Jamaica of a dead heat with a likely Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) victory in the December 29 general election, the earliest results show a 42-21 victory for Portia Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party (PNP). The Jonah-like dumping of Bruce Golding with his “Dudus” Coke baggage in exchange for the clean-cut, youthful image of Andrew Holness failed to calm the raging sea of public discontent.
Following so closely on the rejection of the Stephenson King administration in St Lucia after only one term in office, the most obvious concern for many of the other regional governments whose dates with the polls now appear on the horizon will be whether a similar fate looms.  
Indeed, in an article in the November 15 DAILY?NATION, which was written in anticipation of St Lucia’s November 28 election, I argued that since “the beginning of the cycle of the ‘time for change’ elections in the Caribbean between 2006 and 2008 could be traced to the St Lucia election of December 2006”, the 2011 election “may mark a new cycle” and its results “will provide useful hints to the Caribbean’s political future”.
Time for change?
Later following that election and with the return of Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party (SLP), I surmised that “perhaps the ‘time for change’ is being rethought, and St Lucia simply returned to Anthony as a correction to the 2006 decision, post-Compton” (December 2). With the defeat of the JLP, those vague hints are now becoming clearer.  
Aware of the larger global structural challenges and internal dynamics specific to Jamaica, it is particularly interesting that the JLP undertook leadership changes which were meant as correctives. The failure of the Jamaican experiment will prove particularly significant for a country like Barbados, which has been toying with the idea of leadership change as a strategic electoral response. Had Holness emerged victorious, Freundel Stuart’s internal detractors would have been handed further ammunition for their cause. The Jamaica result, as well as the recent setback to the anti-Stuart group, will provide cause for deeper introspection.
Another significant lesson is the continuing failure of prime ministers who inherit their offices mid-term and find it difficult to carry either the baggage or legacies of their predecessors. George Chambers following Eric Williams, Bernard St John following Tom Adams, Arnhim Eustace following James Mitchell, Vaughan Lewis and Stephenson King following John Compton, Portia Simpson Miller following P.J. Patterson, and now Andrew Holness following Bruce Golding, all suffered defeat in their first election as leaders.
In all of this, the global economic crisis cannot be ignored. In this time of what Lloyd Best would call “gall and wormwood”, the scales seem to be tipping against incumbents. Who is next?
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]