What it takes to win elections
Damion Crawford's constituency booklet, Straight outta East Rural, details an impressive list of infrastructural achievements and educational initiatives across East Rural St Andrew in his short run since 2011. One quote from the booklet states, "Education is a weapon of mass destruction against poverty."
Over the weekend, I made contact with a few caretaker candidates and members of parliament (MPs) as I sought to determine from the MPs in close-win constituencies what achievements had been laid out and, from the caretakers, what strategies they would be using to convince likely voters that they would be the better choice.
My conversation with one veteran politician went along the following lines. "Because no set date for the elections has been announced, I don't want to give away too much to the other side, but I would also like to talk with you completely off the record, if I may."
He was willing to say things just as long as his name was not mentioned. It was Crawford's booklet of achievements that I was using as a template for our discussion.
THE BARE TRUTH
"The young politician has done all that you say he did and, still, it got him kicked out. Mark, there is a reality that very few politicians will face up to openly. They will give an official interview to television, radio and newspaper journalists, but that interview will bury the real truth of what it takes to win elections. I am going to give you the facts and I hope your stomach is strong enough to bear it."
I listened keenly. "First of all, I see where you have written that the middle class is likely to sit this election out again as in 2011. If we assume that more of the 'thinking class' exists among such people and they will not be turning up at the next elections, it makes no sense to raise the big argument about teaching the constituent to fish instead of giving him a fish head.
"You fix roads and it doesn't get you a plus unless you can swell the road crews with some people from the constituency. In any case, he expects the roads to be fixed, so using it as a pure vote-catcher has its limitations."
"But is there a winning formula?" I asked.
"Now you getting down to it," he said. "The party worker who will come to your divisional or area or big party conference at Arena is your target, and he is the one who will likely come to political meetings in the constituency. You need to get to him, his family and those he can influence in his community.
"You can talk about education until your teeth drop out and that will not get him to show up on election day. As far as he is concerned, it is Government who must educate his children. Many would much prefer if JEEP and CDF money is diverted from developmental projects in the constituency and converted to cash and given to them."
"But are you not making the likely voter into a 'licky licky' constituent?" I said.
"Make up your mind," he said. "You want the truth or a made-up story?"
"OK, go ahead."
"The winning formula goes like this. You - the caretaker or the MP wanting to win again - have to be seen to be flush with ready cash. The voter has been conditioned over the years to know that once he votes for your party, he will not be seeing you for another five years, so when you show up you have to visit the bars, buy him drinks, hold his hands, sweet-talk him and leave 'a ting' with him. This costs many thousands of dollars."
"So how long in the election campaign period can this be sustained?" I asked.
"Good question. At this time, only the caretakers and MPs who are well-funded can dare show up now. The majority do not have the funding to sustain a long election campaign, so in a way, they are dying for it to be over soon.
"You say that over the next few weeks, you will be doing a series of articles on the marginal seats. Those are the seats that a heavy infusion of cash will likely get a win. The fact is, the 'thinking class' has been talking a lot about education, but that 'thinking class' is not the voter. Many, many years ago, people used to make jokes about a politician saying that 'education can't eat'.
"You would be surprised how little that has changed in the minds of many of the voters. He wants cash in his pocket or a few farm animals, and his girlfriend wants money to do her hair. Supply those immediate needs and you win the seat."
- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.