General election lessons are many — moving forward for the real work to begin

General election lessons are many — moving forward for the real work to begin

Tess-Maria Leon

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Now that the long-anticipated general election is over, there's much to learn from the wins, gains and losses. Like a mirror, the reflection is now cast on the many new and returning faces to Gordon House where high expectations from the electorate form the next cycle of who become winners and losers of the political machinery. Jamaica presently co-exists with the COVID-19 global pandemic and many of us are clinging to hope that our jobs would be secure and our families and friends stay safe and remain mindful of all protocols put in place by the Government.

Our economy is buckling and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) data shows the economy has contracted to a whopping 18 per cent in the April – June quarter of this year. That's not the only thing that's down – remittances have declined as Jamaicans abroad grapple with the effects of COVID-19 and many in the island have lost their jobs or their companies have had to close down. For others, making ends meet is the crossroad between remaining safe and going out to hustle. Truth be told, the biggest test for any politician is certainly happening now as many Jamaicans are relying on their MPs to assist them with food, helping to pay their light bill or water bills or paying for Internet bills so their children are able to attend school virtually.

This new test might be different but it remains a part of the same class – testing the functionality and effectiveness of an MP who is expected to use the resources provided to him or her to create a sustainable livelihood for their constituents. This test is not new. It is now the yardstick of the Jamaican electorate and MPs ought to be mindful that serving their people is their mandate.

The lessons we have learnt

The wins and losses by the political parties – The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and the People's National Party (PNP)— make me realise there's a lot to learn, understand and improve on. The expectations of the electorate are not only on our leaders but more now on our MPs that represent us.

So the election talk was up in the air from November. Several polls were done last year and earlier by Bill Johnson, BlueDot Insights and Don Anderson and all showed the JLP had a double-digit lead over the PNP — 19, 18, and 16 percentage points lead. The JLP was predicted to win 41 seats and the PNP 22 but in spite of these surveys, all warning signs were ignored. Various polls across seats to determine the favourability of each vying candidate were done independently that favoured a massive win for the JLP. We can only speculate that either party may have wanted to replace some candidates whether because of low favourability, or them just not a suitable candidate for the constituency based on their poor character, bad behaviour and just plain arrogance.

Being a public relations consultant, I always assess what a candidate can do better to be a better politician, or what they can do to become the type of leader constituents want to represent them in terms of honesty, demeanour, humility and the ability to see a vision and execute it.

I always believe that as individuals we should ask ourselves how we can be better people not just for our communities, but for our ourselves and families, our relationships and our country. It really begins at our core to want to genuinely change and make a difference within ourselves, not just to the lives of constituents but the people we have close to us first. The fundamentals start with our families, how we treat people at work, and how we interact with our friends especially when we are even under pressure.

I've always believed that the background of a good politician should be assessed based on how they truly are as a person, to their core, their family background as well as how they treat people. Now, I'm not expecting perfection, because no one is truly perfect but while we all have our issues, it's how we manage and deal with those issues when we are wrong that is the true test of a man's character when under pressure or when the camera is not around, as Robert McKee says “true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation…”.

It's not just ''PR-ing a candidate''. Great social media with pictures of the candidate shouldn't determine how great their potential to be an MP will be. In looking at all the candidates and the leaders representing both parties, I can say there are very admirable qualities by some of the individuals. There are also new candidates representing a constituency for the first time that has great qualities and some have lesser than such. In assessing the polls and just looking into the leadership of the country, Andrew Holness is a well-liked prime minister. This is factual. He is relatable to the public by all classes and ages of people in society as a leader that loves his country and want to better the lives of each Jamaican. His countenance and capability in handling COVID-19 with a great minister of health, Dr Christopher Tufton, health workers and other government officials, causes Jamaica to be seen as one of the top countries in the Caribbean for managing the pandemic.

The JLP-led Government kept its major promises that it said it would in its manifesto in 2016. The prime minister himself has come a long way as he grows and develops and becoming one of the best leaders Jamaica has ever witnessed, and so I am truly not surprised that he was re-elected again. If I am to be truly honest, there was also a swing in many of the seats both in stronghold JLP and PNP seats, to vote in Prime Minister Holness for his second elected term. Most constituents voted for the prime minister rather than their MP candidate.

Then there were some seats whether it's traditionally PNP or JLP that the constituents voted on their MP or potential MP because they were liked. The other category of voters is certainly those in the known stronghold PNP seats always voted PNP 'from Wappie kill Phillup' because that's what they know but some of these seats came too close to being lost by the PNP and that should be a major cause for concern for that party.

Looking ahead

I am only assuming that in the next election those seats that are extremely marginal may not favour the running political party. I believe that with access to information, and nearly 1.7 million people in Jamaica using social media, this allows them to research and understand more about the role of the MP and what they want for themselves and their communities.

We have seen many leaders acknowledge that building roads alone isn't going to cut it. Handouts are being rejected and it seems the resounding win of the JLP is a resounding rebuff to the PNP and their policies. I'll be frank here, I think the tide of people's needs and what they want out of life remain the same. The general consensus in simple terms is that we all need a roof over our heads, food, sleep, and work. People want their financial independence to achieve these things.

Socialism, or the way Jamaica operated in the 1970s or 1990s cannot work for today's Jamaica. Hence, when the manifestos of the JLP and PNP came out, I was disappointed to see an offer of $1,000 off our water bill and an unrealistic figure of 100,000 houses to persons for rent-to-own. As a young professional, and even for anyone wanting to better their life, to offer $1,000 is an insult in the scheme of bills and exorbitant fees we shoulder.

The PNP during the 2011 election offered to remove GCT from light bills. I for one was excited because we all know how stressful light bills are especially with the moving dollar. I had hoped this would have happened but it didn't. For me, Jamaicans can't be fooled anymore and we are now seeing how this Government has helped and kept its promises. Now, I'm not putting the JLP on a pedestal of perfection. There were issues that could have been improved on or handled differently. There were instances of corruption, but we can all agree that the prime minister handled it in a way that no other Jamaican prime minister in recent times have.

A true leader is assessed or judged when faced with pressure that's difficult to manage and this shows the grit and people skills that the prime minister has. This has surely helped to cement his return to Government. Some of the greater lessons we must learn from the 2020 General Election cycle will come from critically examining the reasons the PNP lost most of its seats including many stronghold seats. Other seats they were able to hold on to including St Ann South Eastern and St Andrew East Central, which saw votes for the challenger reaching almost 50 per cent, is another concern.

The surprises were definitely Kingston Central formerly held by Ronald Thwaites which was contested by Imani Duncan Price, St Ann North Western which saw Dayton Campbell losing his bid for a third term (I think he lost major votes due in part for his insensitive 'joke' about mental illness during the leadership debate). The biggest shocker is perhaps the JLP's clean sweep of all five parishes in the JLP's Area Council 4 snagging 16 seats across Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and St Elizabeth. I was also shocked to see veterans and bigwigs like Peter Bunting and Wykeham McNeill being shown the door.

Even though I personally like many of these veteran politicians based on their profile and business acumen, I wonder how are they truly in the constituency? Where did they drop the ball? Did they become complacent? Did they listen to cries or were they simply lacking a proper strategy in place to ensure a win? Was there too much “in-fighting” in the party that their own constituents couldnt trust them to lead and manage this country?

We have to truly look into ourselves as leaders to ask 'where could I have improved?' Did I connect genuinely to the people? There are probably a host of reasons to which these constituents can provide for the marginal seats that lost by less than 250 and expected a landslide.

During the election campaign, I was able to tour some of these constituencies and spent some time asking people on the ground who they are voting for and why or what do they think about their MP? The reasons varied from their MP works really hard as they have put in place parks, hospitals, road and infrastructural developments or they just like them as a person. I also realised they loved the Prime Minister, including many who said they were “a PNP for life,” but they love what the prime minister is doing. Among the issues they were voting for included how Holness has handled COVID-19, corruption and the policies put in place for the country to grow such as reducing the income tax for those earning less than $1.5 million, dropping the interest on National Housing Trust (NHT) loans and reducing GCT, all in the face of completing the debt exchange programme introduced by Audley Shaw in 2009.

The JLP has always been a party focused on bettering the economy. Under its leadership we've seen bank loan interest rates dropping, the interest rates for Student Loan Bureau dropping, jobs increasing, increased housing, including 20,000 housing starts over the last four years thanks to NHT and Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

Going forward, one thing I would like to see is Minister Tufton highlighting mental illness in the society and also being a sort of pre-screen for candidates wishing to contest seats to ensure they can handle and withstand the pressures that comes with the territory. A psych evaluation to see if there are issues with personality disorders, bipolar, narcissism or stress will reveal common mental health issues that many Jamaicans mask. If such mental issue traits are found, this is where we can hope that these candidates seek counselling with psychotherapy and/or medication to assist them to better themselves. I always admire the person that not just acknowledges they have a problem but they act on improving themselves with help. This would also help greatly in selecting only the best leaders to represent the people of Jamaica. This is particularly important as being an MP is more than just “because I want to help people'' or “I came from humble beginnings and so I want to bring change”. We should instead look to the background of the person and their involvement in development and strategies in helping to stir good policy-making decisions.

Doing the work

I believe the PNP is capable of being a strong Opposition and with Dr Phillip leaving, a new and strong leader must be chosen. Dr Phillips, although resigning as party leader, still has much to offer to groom younger politicians. He's had an illustrious career and is credited with having presided over the most fundamental positive reform of the Jamaican economy under the International Monetary Fund, his tenure as national security minister in 2001-2007 – reform and modernisation of the national security forces and the creation of the JUTC are among his most noted successes.

Among those I admire are Mark Golding, Mikael Phillips (someone I know who works hard in his constituency), as well as Lisa Hanna, who is a strong woman and children's rights advocate and I have seen where she has tried to improve the lives of her constituents with road development projects and opportunities for job creation.

I've said and will continue to say that humility over hype is what makes a great leader. Genuinely connecting with the people and bringing real results to the constituency is the greatest challenge to a leader – be strong but not rude, kind not weak, bold but not a bully, proud but not arrogant, having humour but without folly – Jim Rohn.

I sincerely hope that the MPs in both political parties carry their responsibility with respect and grace. The ceremonial signing and being appointed as MP, the hype of that is over. It's now real work. It doesn't matter how many speeches you give, or church services and Nine-nights you go to or boasting about who you are. The real essence and core character of a leader is who he/she is as a person in just their everyday lives. We want to see that what you said you were going to accomplish in your manifesto that you actually achieved it.

A word to the wise too is to be careful with the social media posts. Hype and great PR can't be it. While we want to see you, we want to also ensure constituents see the real changes that you will bring to the constituency. Don't just speak of your plans and yourself. Let's see the work that you promised you will do. Be strategic in what you post and how you express yourself.

I'm also particularly proud to see the women who are entering Gordon House — new faces Krystal Lee, Tova Hamilton, Rhoda Crawford, Dr Michelle Charles, Tamika Davis and Marsha Smith joining a throng of other women from both sides—all of whom have achieved much in their professions contributing to the development of Jamaica. This is a win in my book and I look forward to seeing great things from these MPs.

It's important to note that each MP receives $20 million to use from the constituency development fund to improve roads, infrastructure, education, health and other projects to better the lives of constituents. MPs will have to be innovative and creative but also strategic to bring opportunities for investments so constituents can have an opportunity to start a business, learn a trade or become financially independent. This task should not be left up to the Government alone.

It is now left for you all to carry your role with humility, grace, patience, a great attitude and no abusive or arrogant behaviour as the electorate is watching. The constituents expect you to bring the change they voted for.

Nuff blessings and let's hope we can all work together for the future of Jamaica.

Tess-Maria Leon is Public Relations and Communications Consultant at PR ETC LTD.

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