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PETER WICKHAM: Holness reigns!

Peter W. Wickham

PETER WICKHAM: Holness reigns!

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The September 25, 2016 Jamaica election is now a significant historical marker since it has produced a change of government in a country where such changes have been less frequent than has been the case elsewhere in the region. 

There are of course several perspectives that an analysis of this election can explore. However, the analysis of swing is preferred on this occasion and the more qualitative electoral matters can be examined in subsequent analyses. There is however one point of note that should take precedence, and this is a consideration that the election was quite early.  Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was elected in December of 2011 and could theoretically have remained in office until March of 2017. 

One therefore assumes that her decision to proceed early was based on intelligence that her chances of winning were better now, or there was some good reason why she believed that her chances would have been worse later in the year.

Jamaica is at this time said to be doing well economically and this could be the reason why Simpson-Miller wanted to capitalise on her gains. However, one suspects that the electorate was considerably more pessimistic. There was a presumption in some quarters that she called the election in anticipation of their next IMF testing period, which might have resulted in greater austerity, which would have created unattractive conditions for an election.  In both instances the strategy of going early was logical and the PNP’s failure to recapture the government should not necessarily be viewed as a strategic error.

Dates aside, the swing analysis presented in the accompanying chart demonstrates an interesting story of an election that was the closest in Jamaica’s history from the perspective of popular support and as such comparable to the 2007 election, which curiously also ushered the JLP into office.  The similarity of these two elections is striking and suggests that the Jamaican electorate grew tired of the PNP in 2007 and only returned the government to the PNP in 2011 because the JLP made a fundamental error, which has obviously now been forgiven.  It was a three per cent swing that brought the JLP into office in 2007 and on this occasion it is a 3.6 per cent swing that has ushered them in, which adds to this fascinating similarity between elections.

There is also the matter of how this result reflects on the two party leaders and from the perspective of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller it could be argued that the assessment is not flattering.  She was handed a government and lost it on her first electoral excursion and it would also not be unreasonable to argue that she has never really won an election.  She faced the polls three times and won the second; however, one could argue that this victory had more to do with the failings of Bruce Golding.  The fact that she also failed now on her third attempt, along with her chronological age, suggests that she should perhaps consider walking away from the leadership of the PNP at this time.

On the side of Andrew Holness, he is chronologically young and can claim success on his first genuine electoral excursion.  Certainly he was defeated once before; however on that occasion the Jamaican electorate might have been judging the JLP more on the failings of his predecessor.  This time he has overcome internal challenges to his leadership to narrowly win and can therefore now set about consolidating his and the party’s support.

Presumably the JLP will interpret its victory at the polls with much needed conservatism.  Neither the seat count, nor popular vote, is generous, which suggests that the population is giving the JLP a chance to prove itself in much the same way that it did in 2007.  The majority is functional; however, the party needs to guard against repeating the same type of unforced error which led it from office in 2011.  Certainly the Jamaican electorate could be said to judge the JLP more harshly than it does the PNP, but such is politics!

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email; [email protected]