If Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), stays the entire five years of his present term, our 19th parliamentary election will be held somewhere near September 2025. I have a hunch, though, that Holness will 'ring the bell' (think Edward Seaga) before 2025.
Over the last three decades, on the average, our prime ministers have tended to "fly di gate" — think P J Patterson — between four years and 4½ years into their term of office. Maybe Holness will depart from the 30-year average and go earlier. Only he knows. What we all know, though, is that the JLP is leading handsomely in the polls right now.
I am not surprised by this at all. Many months ago I pointed out in this space that the Mark Golding-led People's National Party (PNP) was totally missing the pulse of the majority of the people of this country. Many months ago I also said here that Golding was weighed down by his large tin political ear. I noted here, too, that with each passing month Golding's tin ear had grown larger. The latest scientific poll suggests that I am correct.
As I pointed out last Sunday, no amount of spinning by the PNP will lessen the reality that several scientific polls have consistently found that the rickety foundations at 89 Old Hope Road are deteriorating fast.
The Gleaner's banner headline last Tuesday, 'JLP in lead, PNP trailing 13%; most older voters go green', was the most recent scientific poll finding to show that Norman Manley's party is heading downhill. The news item said, among other things: "The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would retain power if a general election were to be called today, widening its advantage over the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and strengthening its influence over key demographic groups, including young voters.
"But even among more mature voters, 45 and older, once the backbone of political dominance, the PNP has ceded ground to the Labourites.
"Amid an increase in voter apathy, the PNP is trailing the Andrew Holness-led JLP by 13 percentage points, losing sway even in its traditional stronghold of Westmoreland that turned green in the electoral tsunami of 2020 that saw the Labourites winning 49 of 63 seats.
"An RJRGleaner-commissioned Don Anderson poll revealed that 31 per cent of electors would mark their ballot for the JLP, while 18 per cent said they would vote for the PNP.
"The grim data dovetail with the findings of other Anderson polls showing Opposition Leader Mark Golding and his party behind Holness and the JLP – results that may weigh heavily on the PNP president heading into the party's 84th Annual Conference this weekend."
I have a hunch that by or before next year this time our 17th local government election would have been held. Based on the trajectory that the PNP is on I believe that Mark Golding and the PNP will lose.
I believe also that the old lacerations at 89 Old Hope Road will reopen, but wider, and more infighting will then splinter the PNP even further. I think Mark Golding will be challenged for helm come 2023.
Power and the prospect of staying in power often leads to a turning on of the tap of complacency. We have seen in our politics time and time again where power has caused our politicians to over imbibe from the political punch bowl. They became so inebriated they lost the foresight and even the common sense to remove the bowl altogether.
I believe the JLP would do well to ensure that it does not become punch-drunk and repeat, for example, the errors of the Portia Simpson Miller Administration of 2011-2016. Folks are not interested in a contest of who is the greatest in the kingdom. They are not interested in the number of letters behind the name of their Member of Parliament — except those letters serve as a direct conduit to fast-tracking access to electricity, water, good roads, and other basic amenities. The youth, especially, are not keen on speeches that are devoid of tangible evidence of practical application to their short- and medium-term benefit. People are accessing information from all over the world and asking 'why can't I have this here in Jamaica?'
Golding and the PNP have been out in the highways and the byways for the last many months. They keep repeating what former prime minister the late Michael Manley did 45 years ago. Many months ago I pointed out in this space that romanticising Manley, when the majority of the average voter is below age 45, was foolhardy and fantastical.
These latest scientific poll findings are showing that the PNP is continuing to lose ground with younger voters and now are losing ground with some of the older voters, who had traditionally stuck with them, as evidenced here: "The pollster said that the PNP's strongest support is among older people aged 45 to 55, who account for 25 per cent.
" 'They have been able to maintain that, but by the same token, the gap between themselves and the Jamaica Labour Party among the older voters is four percentage points in favour of the JLP, compared to 13 percentage points overall,' he explained.
"The JLP has 29 per cent of people backing the party in the 45-55 age group, but support for the party is highest among 25- to 34-year-olds.
"Among voters older than 55, the JLP leads the PNP 29 per cent to 24 per cent. Twenty-eight per cent in that cohort said they would not vote while 19 per cent said they were not sure.
"Anderson reported that the JLP is attracting far more young voters than the PNP, as 11 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they would vote for the PNP compared to 32 per cent who are in favour of the JLP.
" 'Among the upper income groups, 13 per cent would support the PNP compared to 42 per cent who would support the JLP. PNP is very competitive among the older age groups and definitely not competitive among the younger age group,' Anderson said."
Political complacency is dangerous. There is much evidence that the PNP still conceives of itself as Jamaica's party of natural choice. There are many in the PNP who are still convinced that the "My father born yah," semiotics or cultural messaging from Neville Martin's 70s song.
Practical results matter
While the PNP is bellowing "My father born yah," and reminiscing about Michael Manley, folks are seeing new highways being built, mega and major infrastructural improvements, employment is at its lowest since political independence, the economy is very stable, and the country has weathered the pandemic and is now recovering at a much faster pace than many other middle-income countries globally.
While the PNP is talking about socialism and a kind of lifestyle which was sellable in the 70s when the non-aligned movement was in vogue, voters are looking globally for opportunities. The PNP, it seems, is still so in love with itself that it spends the majority of its time staring in the mirror.
Folks are concerned with tangible results that increase their bread and butter. By any objective assessment, the Holness Administration is producing results in many areas which are positively impacting the lives of thousands of Jamaicans. Notwithstanding the long-standing and mounting crime rate and social decline, folks are seeing the JLP as their best bet.
Montague is right
On the subject of crime, the former National Security Minister and Member of Parliament for St Mary Western Robert "Bobby" Montague, in his contribution to the debate over the new Firearms Act in the House of Representatives, two Wednesdays ago, noted that it needed to be made easier for law-abiding citizens to access a firearm.
Said Montague: "Any decent, law-abiding citizen with a clean police record, no mental issues, or domestic violence convictions should be able to acquire a gun permit within 45 days of applying. Police statistics show that over the last 10 years 29 firearms holders have been murdered in Jamaica. In addition, a total of 627 combined major crimes, including shooting, robbery, praedial larceny, have been committed against firearm holders.
"Madam Speaker, there are 45,000, licensed firearm holder in Jamaica today with 167,000 guns. But remember that persons have multiple licences, multiple guns, plus there are security companies and gun clubs. There is an average of 30,000 firearm holders over the last 10-year period.
"Therefore, some 0.09 per cent or 1 per cent of licensed firearm holders have been murdered over a 10-year period, or an average of 0.01 per year.
"At 627 combined incidents of crime against firearm holders it shows that only 2 per cent have been affected by crime over the last 10 year period, or an average of point 2 per year. The figures clearly show that if you are armed criminals do not mess with you.
"The criminals have more advanced weapons that the police in many cases.
"The police and the army are held at bay for hours, sometimes in a shoot-out, yet we are calling on law-abiding citizens to join the fight against crime.
"What must they join with, Madam Speaker? Dem two long hand? Two stone and a cutlass? And what they must duh wid those?
"Madam Speaker, the long wait for a licences sometimes criminalises the process. Police sources say a used 9MM firearm can be had for $200,000 to $300,000, while the decent law-abiding citizen has to suffer in waiting.
"It is the long wait, sometimes, that helps to corrupt the system. We must level the playing field and give advantage to the law-abiding person."
I believe Montague is making a lot of sense here. Many years ago, I declared in this space that I believed that law-abiding citizens should be given adequate means to protect themselves, particularly in a situation where the State had failed to do so over many decades.
I stand by that position.
I remember some years ago noted psychologist Dr Leahcim Semaj, in commenting on citizens' right to protect themselves, made the point that criminals thought twice and thrice about breaking into homes in places like Jack's Hills, Norbrook, Beverly Hills, and Cherry Garden because they knew that there was a high likelihood that the homeowners were armed and prepared to defend themselves and property.
Montague is right. The process of acquiring a firearm needs to be amended to give the decent, taxpaying, law-abiding citizens a decided advantage.
It's about justice!
Like Montague I am a supporter of hanging. I declared that many years ago here. I stand by it.
I do not believe that social powder puffs or forms of emotional embrace will soothe or silence the ravenous monsters among us whose only vocation is rape, robbery, murder, and other heinous acts.
Those who are wedded to criminal mayhem must be hunted, captured, and put before the courts. Those who attack State personnel, so as to endanger their lives and/or the lives of other law-abiding citizens, must not be treated with kid gloves.
I agree with Montague that we must either use the legislation regarding hanging or remove it from the law books. Many years ago I made the point here that I do not come down on the side of whether hanging is a deterrent or not. I have seen several studies which have produced statistics to substantiate either position.
For me, capital punishment is a matter of justice for the victims.
I strongly believe premeditated murderers who have exhausted all legal recourse should face the ultimate penalty.
I disagree, however, with Montague when he recommended that: "As a matter of fact, we should build four more gallows, one on the west, one on the south coast, one on the north coast, and one in the east. Most areas would be within one hour of one of them so as the judge pass sentence, straight to the gallows."
I have no wish to see, nor do I think it would be prudent to turn hanging into a spectacle.
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist, and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.