Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Now for the bitter medicine

Published:Friday | February 26, 2016 | 2:00 AM

Well, the People's National Party (PNP) gambled and lost. A month ago, I pointed out in this column that a four-percentage-point difference between the PNP and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), in a poll with a margin of error of three percentage points, was actually a statistical dead heat, since the lower range of the one overlapped with the upper range of the other.

Desperate to call the election before a Budget that clearly was going to contain bitter medicine, which would kill their electoral chances later down in the year, the PNP clutched at the straws the poll offered, and Portia 'fly de gate'.

A more recent poll showed the gap narrowing to three percentage points, confirming the statistical dead heat, and suggesting a slight trend towards the JLP. I think it would be fair to say that none of the Jamaican pollsters detected the strong swing towards the JLP that last night's results indicate. They will try to salvage some pride by belatedly claiming that the result falls within the margin of error, which it does; but their official analysis did not count this for much. And in any case, no Jamaican poll detected the strong swing - the surge - towards the JLP.

After 60 years of a series of two-term governments, that historical pattern has clearly shifted. The PNP broke it when it won four consecutive terms, and this has now been followed by two one-term governments. The Jamaican electorate is maturing.

Voter turnout was again low, and the received wisdom was always that a low turnout favours the PNP, because they had a larger base of diehard supporters. Clearly, political supporters are no longer as diehard as they used to be. The Jamaican electorate is maturing.

A big lesson from this campaign is that you disrespect the 'articulate minority' at your peril. With the level of Internet and smartphone penetration throughout Jamaica, they may, in fact, no longer be in the minority. The Jamaican electorate is maturing.

Never before have I seen such a strong effort by both sides at mobilising the inarticulate masses in T-shirts and caps to clog the streets in a show of force. I have heard some of these grassroots people claim that they took T-shirts and money from both sides to show up in motorcades and at mass rallies. Those huge numbers of mobilised masses did not turn out to vote. They 'nyam dem out and vote dem out'. Even the inarticulate majority is maturing.

 

SLIM LOWER HOUSE MAJORITY

 

Winning the election is one thing, but governing Jamaica over the next five years in the context of a severe IMF agreement is quite another. Even though the JLP has won the election, it will not have an easy time at governance because, like the last time, it has only a slim majority in the Lower House. When the JLP last won in 2007, outgoing Prime Minister Simpson Miller did not readily or graciously concede defeat; she promised a nightmare. The JLP can expect the same approach again.

What do I expect of this new JLP Government in the first 100 days?

The first expectation I have is that Prime Minister-designate Andrew Holness will select and appoint a much smaller Cabinet, creating a lean and mean executive to govern the affairs of the country.

Frugality must be the order of the day. I will be disappointed if he allows another furniture scandal and SUVs-for-ministers scandal to occur.

The 2016-2017 Budget, with its bitter medicine, has been in preparation since last year, and is already cast by outgoing Minister of Finance Peter Phillips and his technocrats. It is supposed to be tabled in Parliament in a few weeks. I don't know if it is possible for the incoming finance minister to recast it in a few days. Besides, it will be good politics to table the existing Budget, and blame the bitter medicine on the PNP.

At the same time, the new Government must make haste slowly. The election promise of raising the income tax threshold must be implemented within the first 100 days, but need not be rushed off within the first 30.

I hope that he will not create conflicts of interest for the environment portfolio by combining it with high environmental-impact portfolios like tourism, health and housing; combining it with related portfolios like fisheries, forestry, and water will be appropriate.

To its credit, the JLP declared in its manifesto that there will be no mining in the Cockpit Country. But where does the Cockpit Country begin and end? Within the first 100 days, I hope the new JLP Government will release the Cockpit Country Boundary Study promised to us by the PNP Government over a year ago.

I look forward to funds being provided for the report of the FINSAC commission of enquiry to be produced and made public.

- Peter Espeut is in his 25th year as a Gleaner columnist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.