Editorial

Political resurrections and one-term governments

Sunday, October 21, 2012    

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It is remarkable how quickly the electorates across the world in very different circumstances can change their minds and vote to change the party in government.

The swings are often very large and the political resurrection of parties and leaders literally thrown out of political office not long before can take the form of electoral landslides.

Close races can be tipped to competing parties by a single event, eg a presidential debate, a foreign policy faux pas, revelations of reprehensible personal conduct or suggestions of corruption spawned just before voters go to the polls and which leave insufficient time for refutation.

The periods between political oblivion and political resurrection seems to be getting shorter, especially when the country is experiencing economic difficulties.

In the past, the Jamaican electorate would give each party two consecutive terms, until the People's National Party (PNP) smashed that tradition and got four straight terms between 1989 and 2007.

The return to office of Mrs Portia Simpson Miller and the PNP after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had been in office for less than a full term, from 2007 to 2011, marked the first one-term Government since Independence. This quick political resurrection by the PNP looks probable elsewhere in the Caribbean and is not beyond the realms of possibility in the United States.

We saw that happen with Mr Hubert Ingraham in The Bahamas and Mr Kenny Anthony in St Lucia. Mr Owen Arthur's Barbados Labour Party looks set to return to power, even though there was a change of party leader and unsettled internal differences.

In Grenada, Mr Tilman Thomas defeated Mr Keith Mitchell in July 2008 but looks almost certain to be turned out of office because of fierce internal differences, handing back power to Mr Mitchell.

Gone are the days when leaders could be sure to return to political office if they wait out the two-term sabbatical, or be retained in power regardless of performance by virtue of the advantages of being incumbent.

Increasingly, leaders and parties are rotating after one term. Mr Perry Christie, who led a one-term Government in The Bahamas from 2002-2007, is back in power.

In the US presidential elections, the polls are indicating, with less than three weeks to go, that it could go either way. In such a tight race a small event can make the difference, as was evident from Mr Mitt Romney's performance in the first debate against President Barack Obama.

The relevance of these trends must be exercising the minds of the leadership in the PNP. The failure to complete an International Monetary Fund (IMF) pact could very well lead to the political resurrection of the JLP and Mr Andrew Holness.

This possibility has less to do with the JLP being a vibrant Opposition and more to do with the real and perceived shortcomings of the PNP.

It would be ironic if the economic distress that pushed the PNP from office in 2007, and contributed to the implosion of the JLP in 2011, was to again lead to the downfall of the PNP. Some might say poetic justice, since the economic problems originated during the previous PNP administrations.

The Jamaican situation is dire, and an election provides no clear choice. Neither party seems to be able, or has the guts, to do what is necessary to change the economic fortunes of the country.

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