What will most people vote for in the 2020 election?

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What will most people vote for in the 2020 election?

Louis Moyston

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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The history of party politics and election campaigns in modern Jamaica from 1944 to the present is interesting and instructive. It is interesting because some of the major themes and characteristics from those campaigns are very alive and well today. And, it is instructive because they provide lessons that are indispensable to the nature and practices of Jamaican politics.

During the journey of my explorations I keep on asking myself why do people vote they way the vote in those elections? This article looks at the history of elections and use of propaganda from 1944 to 1962.

Dominance: Labour Party to Jamaica Labour Party

The 1940s and 1950s saw the rise and fall of the white planter class, in their effort to demand their right in political leadership under universal adult suffrage elections. From 1944 to 1962 the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was basically grounded in the union, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), a privately incorporated trade union. During the decades of the 40s and 50s the JLP had more organised units across Jamaica than the People's National Party (PNP). Though the PNP was organised in 1938, four years before the JLP, and had a brilliant system of grass roots organisation, the JLP had the capacity to enter into the election with more candidates than the PNP.

For example, from 1939 there were two BITU offices in St Thomas, one in the east and the other in the west. In later years there were two constituencies in that parish; one in the east and the other in the west. This situation was a representative of the breadth of the union grass roots units that became the mass movement of the JLP. The planter class had their alliances from the previous Government set-up of the Legislative Council. The PNP was an organised political movement pregnant with lots of ideas that the majority of the people in the country could not understand. Though the JLP, then, lacked political sophistication, had no political thought, and having both the union and a leader who communicated effectively to the mass of Patois-speaking people, it outmanoeuvred the illustrious Norman Manley and the PNP from 1944 to 1955.

The JLP, the independent candidates, and members of the Jamaica Democratic Party (JDP) all campaigned against the PNP, especially with anti-communist and anti-socialist propaganda. More than often the independent candidates were planters and, combined with the JDP, were insistent that they must take political leadership in a universal adult suffrage era.

Of the 32 constituencies, the Labour Party contested in 29, and the PNP in 19. There were 29 independent candidates across the 32 constituencies. The JLP won 22 seats and the PNP and independent candidates were tied at five seats each. The JDP members lost their deposits; it was a solid rejection of the planter class in the post-universal adult suffrage election period. The Labour Party won the 1949 election with 17 to the PNP's 13 seats; the seats of the independents were reduced to two from five.

The campaigns in the 40s featured more personality attacks than any constructive engagements in political discussions. The newspaper reports mention accounts made by Norman Manley about the bauxite multinationals and their financial support for the JLP. The PNP, in spite of its progressive agenda, had a most difficult time in raising funds for elections. In the 1955 elections Manley was most appreciative of the role of his “friends” from North America, the Jamaica Progressive League, and the generous financial support it gave the PNP.

The rise of the PNP above the anti-communist propaganda

It is interesting that during the years in decade of the 40s there were biting commentaries in the newspaper about poor political leadership and the nature of the corrupt political practices. In the meantime, the PNP political organisation and machinery developed into a dominant political force in the early years of the 1950s. The party, in 1954, entered 32 candidates and the JLP 31. The independents totalled 11, the Farmers' Party 13, and three from the National Labour Party. The PNP, adequately funded with its well-oiled machinery, mowed down the JLP by taking 18 of the 32 seats, the JLP with 14, and ended the reign of independents.

In the 1959 election the constituencies were expanded to 45, with the PNP dominating the results with 29 seats and 50.55 per cent of the votes to the JLP's 16 seats, and 39 per cent of the votes. The PNP was not only a well-oiled machine, the party also had the opportunity to set in motion policies that laid the basic foundation for the construction of a modern society, coming out of slavery. Though not radical in terms of incorporation, black consciousness ideas were present, and the party was at best Fabian socialist.

The 1940s the 1950s saw the emergence of the Cold War, an era of anti-communism, especially in the United States of America. Many pundits argue that the PNP was forced to expel the red members from the left wing of the party in order to have dominated the politics of the 1950s. That was an appeasement act to the anti-red drive led by the Anglo-American axis, and also from the reactionary classes from inside of Jamaica. Many voters were extremely clear in terms of what they voted for in the 1950s.

The fall of the PNP and the anti-communist propaganda

It is surprising that at the end of the Cold War the anti-communist sentiments and anti-socialist tendencies are still strong, in spite of the fact that the nature of contemporary politics today is leaning into more cultural orientations.

Just recently that sentiment was rehashed in a speech by Prime Minster Andrew Holness about Michael Manley's “misadventures” of the 1970s. But it was in the 1962 election that his propaganda was strong. According to the political forecasters all was set for a Norman Manley and PNP victory in 1962, but that was changed when a few weeks before the elections two Russian oceanic research ships appeared in Kingston harbour for refuelling. The JLP set loose the propaganda that the ships were filled with Russians soldiers awaiting the Manley victory so they could descend on Jamaica and turn the country communist. The JLP won 26 of the 45 votes, leaving the PNP with 19.

What did the people vote for in 1962? It was a puzzling question for me then and now. There is a history of the use of propaganda and the manipulation of party symbols as the main features for “stirring the souls” and “capturing the imagination” of the people. I have never seen governance so poor and careless; and an Opposition so quiet that it is not able to distinguish itself from the governing party.

As a political observer, I would like to hear more from leaders taking a stand on corruption, and not that the other committed those acts too so that makes it right. Are you for or against corruption? What is your position on nepotism, tribalism; education, youth containment and development; science and its application to agriculture with a view to developing a really resilient economy?

It is interesting that those who promote “Live Gud” and the “#Together” campaign are purveyors of political tribalism. This kind of contradiction is inherent in Jamaican politics. Many PNP and JLP supporters are not clear on why they should vote in the 2020 elections. The election may not be over soon.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or thearchives01@yahoo.com.


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