The political wisdom of East Portlanders

Sunday, April 07, 2019

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It is a credit to the wisdom of the Jamaican people, the resilience of our institutions, and the good sense of our politicians that we have been holding free and fair elections since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944, the Portland Eastern by-election being the latest.

The results of the by-election make for interesting analyses.

First, the electoral system is working with a few minor glitches easily sorted out, giving the results credibility and eliciting the confidence of the Jamaican electorate.

Second, money makes a big difference to the result. Elections are enormously expensive, particularly for advertisements, holding public meetings, getting party supporters to the polls, and enabling party workers to get into the 'field' in sufficient numbers.

The party in power can redirect government expenditure just before the vote and finds it easier to raise money from private sources. In this case, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) appears to have outspent the People's National Party (PNP).

This, of course, cannot fully explain how the PNP could lose a majority of over 2,000 votes from the 2016 General Election in that constituency. The party would do well to do some careful soul-searching and analysis of the result.

Third, the presence and visibility of the candidate over a sustained period of time makes a difference. The PNP candidate was parachuted into the constituency at very short notice and did not have time to become familiar with the voters, or even the PNP supporters.

It is not enough to blame the JLP's Mrs Ann-Marie Vaz for giving herself a big head start, which she used to great advantage. This was good sense and forward thinking on her part. Plus, she ran a very sensible and effective campaign, with support from a great team.

True that the PNP had little time between the demise of Dr Lynvale Bloomfield and the by-election. But if the party had been building up their prospective candidate, Ms Andrea Moore, they would not have had to draw for Mr Damion Crawford.

To be fair to Mr Crawford, it is worth noting that he proved his mettle as a formidable politician for the future. Faced with only the fact that the seat was traditionally PNP, he fought what were insurmountable odds to increase the PNP vote and really only lost by a mere 306 votes.

Nonetheless, he created some unforced errors by his unskillful introduction of colour and class into the campaign. He should always remember what older Jamaicans knew all along, that 'loose lips sink ships' and 'cock mouth kill cock'.

Fourth, the loss of what was supposedly a safe seat for the PNP, while bad for that party, may be good for Jamaican politics. Ideally, there should be no sure or safe seats for any political party.

This would indicate that the electorate would be voting on issues and the merits of the candidate rather than blind party loyalty.

Moreover, the voters of Portland Eastern have put the onus on Mrs Vaz and, inescapably, her husband Mr Daryl Vaz, to work their hardest for the parish. They will have no one to blame if nothing substantial happens between now and the next general election.

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