Which party has better ground game?
It is a natural progression for change to come in any organisation over time. The maintenance of the status is almost guaranteed to lead to the diminishing of the core objective of the organisation. The two major political parties are not immune to this phenomenon.
Historically, the PNP came out of the emergence of leadership in the country. The teachers, the Church and the aspiring middle class led the drive for that party to become known as the party of ideas. The ideas were nurtured, formulated and spread across the country by the welfare infrastructure created by the then party president, Norman Manley. They debated and developed and sold to the interested persons that there was a role for them in the development of the country. They formulated the principal thrust for political independence. They were rewarded with universal adult suffrage in 1944 and limited self-government in 1955. This culminated with the PNP winning the general election in 1957.
Norman Manley was to become premier in this new political era. We went on as a country to engage in the most significant political activity in which the Jamaican people were to play a part. This was the 1961 referendum on federation. This event proved to be a watershed for the PNP. They learnt that ideas, high-minded and seemingly logical, would have a difficult chance on an uninspired mass voter base. The PNP lost the referendum because Sir Alex Bustamante understood that ideas germinated and fleshed out on verandahs by the literate classes with their limited numbers of persons could not defeat twice as many illiterate persons who were subject to an emotional appeal. The law of large numbers would triumph.
Here come the 1970s and the PNP seeks to re-establish its links with the mass of the population. Social legislation became the order of the day. Direct benefit is felt by the bulk of the population. Eighty per cent of children born out of wedlock were no longer bastards. Equal pay for women. Maternity leave with pay. All these came like showers of blessings on the population.
The current PNP administration has done the heavy lifting on the macroeconomic platform. They have engaged the IMF and branded the JLP as the party turning to gimmicks to secure an election victory. The prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, has portrayed her linkages to the bowels of the people into great mass appeal. We have come full circle. The PNP is now representing the masses of the people. The JLP now represents the Internet-based, articulate minority, so Portia Simpson Miller can get away with minimal interaction with the press.
PNP STRATEGY WORKING
The Comrades can afford to scuttle the electorate debates as being not relevant to their strength now we have a poll that shows a 58 per cent likely voter turnout. The PNP's strategy is working. They may well win the upcoming general elections. What is more interesting is watching the realignment of the parties.
The election campaign so far represents a considerable decrease in the tensions and criminal activity. The unfortunate incidents in St James have not been duplicated across the country. This is a welcome sign of maturity and tolerance. This incident has provided the PNP with a convenient ruse to form the basis for boycotting the organised debates. However, one must look to the strategy that organised debates are less important to the masses who will cast their votes.
The PNP is appealing to those everlasting bonds which say 'born PNP'. I do not think the projected increase in the voter turnout is the result of additional persons being enumerated. People get enumerated in large numbers in Jamaica for the purpose of securing a nationally accredited identification.
Let us take a look at the East Rural St Andrew constituency. The two candidates for the major parties have only recently gone into the constituency, yet some 3,700 persons have been added to the voters' list. It is hard to conclude that this was a result of the parties' organisations enumerating new persons. The constituency did not have active, vibrant on-the-ground political organisations. The appeal to the core supporters will result in the PNP benefiting from the increased voter turnout.
The ruling party needs to lose a net of 11 seats and not pick up any of the opposition seats for there to be a change of administration come Thursday, February 25. I have spent some time in dialogue with the resident political analysts who claim good knowledge on the ground. The best I am able to get is that there are 16 seats that are likely to change parties. Some of these seats are majority PNP; however, the experts all state that the ground game, the strength of the organisation, the efficiency of the workers, the transportation network are all factors that are too fluid to speak with any certainty.
It is well accepted that elections in Jamaica are decided by the prevailing conditions on E-Day. Refreshments, pocket money, transportation and diligence and commitment of staff are going to make the difference in this election.
I still say it is the economics which will prove the decisive factor. Free health care, free education, a 47 per cent increase in the minimum wage, and an income tax giveaway to persons earning $1.5m or less are pie-in-the-sky economics. That won't work this time.