Mon | Sep 25, 2017

A tale of two elections

Published:Monday | February 1, 2016 | 2:00 AMPeter Espeut
PNP supporter and former commissioner of police, Lucius Thomas, is a picture of surprise near the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre yesterday. The square was transformed into PNP headquarters with tens of thousands of Comrades pouring into the heart of the metropolis from all across the island.

As you read this, two national election campaigns in two different countries are being staged in front of the eyes of those who choose to watch.

In one country with a fixed election date, the would-be presidential candidates are being grilled by each other, journalists and the public about details of the policies they would implement should they be elected. Their every statement is being dissected for contradictions and bias, and their private lives are being examined for scandals and poor example. Their congressional and Senate voting records have been matched against those who have given them political contributions, to check for possible influence-peddling and conflicts of interest.

In the other country, while much time is spent in cussing the other side, no manifestos have been issued, and vague election promises pass for discussion of issues.

No information is available on political donors and the amounts they have contributed, while rumours abound that the cash pans of one side are almost empty, while the political coffers of the other side are said to be overflowing with tens of millions of dollars of donations.

DIFFERENT VOTING PUBLICS

The political classes of these two countries are different, but what is really different about these two countries is the people ­ the voting public. In the first country, party support is based on personal conviction (whether racism, or support for issues like homosexuality) or on issues like a strong central government or devolution of more authority to the states in the union. Competing candidates need political donations to pay for campaign advertisements, political paraphernalia and campaign office space.

In the other, the two main parties are ideologically indistinguishable; it’s basically a matter of which political tribe holds power and has control of state funds to allow its supporters and donors to wallow in the spoils. The mass of political supporters are economically disadvantaged; the political process involves making payments in cash and kind to potential voters to ensure their support, which requires heavy injections of cash at election time. The donors will only support the party they believe will win, and will reward their support with political favours.

Are both these countries democracies in the real sense?
Before all Jamaicans of majority age were allowed to vote, only persons of financial substance could vote and stand for election; Jamaica’s politics was controlled by the wealthy and economically powerful. Today, we have returned to those days, for money wins elections, and those who pay the piper, call the tune.

Decades of profligate borrowing, taxing and spending by both parties when in power have brought Jamaica to the brink of bankruptcy; the conditionalities attached to IMF support require the population to take a cut in their standard of living through wage freezes, currency devaluation and increases in living costs other than petroleum; more hardship is to come when the public-sector wage bill is cut, and civil servants are required to contribute to their pensions.

MORE YEARS, MORE TEARS?

Were Jamaica to have a fixed election date, the incumbent government would have been forced to implement the onerous IMF prescriptions in an election year, which would have negatively affected their electoral fortunes. Calling elections nearly one year early (before applying the really bitter medicine) allows the incumbent party more years in power, and allows their supporters to continue to share the scarce benefits and spoils a party in power is able to provide.

Neither the People’s National Party (PNP) nor the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) wants this corrupt political system to change. Neither party is committed to dismantling political garrisons, or breaking the connection between politics and crime. Neither party is committed to the conservation and protection of Jamaica’s natural environment. There really is no reason to vote for either of them, unless one’s nose is buried in the trough.

I appeal to disillusioned persons: You have the power to determine who wins the February 25 election. It is not good for the same party to be in power for too long, growing fat on the political spoils. For this reason alone, it will be better for Jamaica if we have a change of government, with different snouts in the trough.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com