John Crow government swoops down
All over Jamaica right now, John Crows are camping out at gullies, valleys, cities, and villages, picking away at the carcasses of People's National Party candidates. At least Audley Shaw fulfilled the first promise of his political campaign, and Jamaicans who bought it are still counting their Cash Pot winnings. Whether he will deliver on the other pledges, including the $1.5 million tax-relief bonanza, might be a whole different kind of turkey.
For Portia Simpson Miller and the confident Comrades, it wasn't supposed to end this way. We still hear the resonant voice of Paul Burke, in his element, bragging "Pinned down!" and "Under pressure!" as he listed James Robertson, Pearnel Charles, Andrew Holness, Ruddy Spencer, and Daryl Vaz as hostages of an election machinery that sought to spread the JLP wide. And that it did. For sources said that even Daryl Vaz was still working in his constituency with less than an hour to go before the polls closed to shore up his seat.
But Burke's braggadocio showed that notwithstanding all the hype and histrionics, all the forecasts and punditry, with all the empty talk about the near impregnability of the PNP juggernaut, the party general secretary may end up being among the most corpulent of the carcasses, along with Peter Phillips' and Simpson Miller's. Phillips, the PNP's campaign director and the IMF's star boy-turned-Man of the Year, was, effectively, the driver of the choo-chooing re-election train, which chugged right off the precipice last night.
Make no mistake about it: This election was built on the PNP's management of the economy. Nothing else. Peter Phillips beat the fiscal drum to ear-splitting decibel levels and did a sterling job of keeping the economy on even keel. But stability has not brought growth and jobs fast enough for the Jamaican people. And a spiralling dollar, rising prices, and a diminishing food basket haven't helped either. Simpson Miller has been forced to eat crow, as she herself said, in her last stint as opposition leader, "Fiscal targets cannot eat and people cannot sleep on balance sheet."
Last night, the Jamaican people stuck their fingers in their ears and bawled back at Phillips, "It's Greek to me." And like the Greeks, the election postmortem may well show that the people thumbed their noses at the gospel of fiscal conservatism and voted in a Syriza-type party with grand promises of protecting citizens from rapacious creditors.
The irony is that the JLP, with its history of fiscal conservatism, has reprised itself to become even more socialist than Michael Manley.
The PNP may have won the publicity war with the acclamation of credit-rating agencies, The Economist, the IMF, and even Barack Obama, but they didn't have a vote yesterday. Now, Audley Shaw has to prove that the fiscal wizardry of John Crow-nomics goes beyond lucky winnings at Cash Pot. And with Andrew Holness promising to fix housing, water, roads, and poverty, he and Audley may have just about put Santa Claus and the seven reindeer into receivership.
Yesterday's defeat must be especially bitter for Portia Simpson Miller. Billed as a popular and populist leader, Portia Simpson Miller fell too much in love with the sound of her name. She is no P.J. - an election whiz. She seemed to assume, for the second time in nine years, that her stardom would bring home the party. For the second time in nine years, she proved that 'God' was, gulp, wrong - after Prophet Phinn and the superstitious sevens of 2007 and the Master's touch of 2016. But the Big Man in the sky could be launching a lawsuit of His own to add to those filed by the Holnesses on Portia and Peter.
END OF SISTER P
If the JLP victory survives preliminary and magisterial recounts, if it comes to that, the chapter may just close on Sister P's reign. And her successor-in-waiting, Peter Phillips, may find it challenging to present himself as a winnable replacement when his stewardship, as much as Simpson Miller's, may have cost them the victory.
Andrew Holness was right: Bustamante has got his birthday gift a day late. But whether he can successfully implement his expensive and expansive plans, without busting the Budget, is a test bigger than any the IMF has set for a Labourite government.
- Andre Wright is opinion editor of The Gleaner. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.