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Mark Wignall | Why only hardcore supporters turn out for local government elections?

Published:Thursday | November 17, 2016 | 11:00 AM

The year 1980 was as far from normal as a snail was not Usain Bolt. Politically and socially, the times were tense, and the air was filled with much fear, uncertainties, and people preferred to remain indoors after working hours.

From July onwards, the guns began to bark in Spanish Town, the city's east and western end and especially in Olympic Gardens. It was the worst of time in our politics, and we would like to believe that we will never again return to those close ties between politics and the gun culture.

In October of that 1980, the JLP swept to power in the biggest one-sided victory ever seen in the history of this country with a popular vote of 59% to the People's National Party's (PNP) 41%. In that process, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) captured 51 of the 60 seats then available.

In the local government elections the following year, the JLP again cleaned up, getting 63% of the popular vote and 262 of the 275 divisions islandwide.

After that, two big shocks to the system took place. The PNP's Michael Manley decided on a matter of principle not to contest the snap 1983 elections called by Edward Seaga, then prime minister. It was Manley's contention that the voters' list was not updated, and there had been prior agreement with Seaga that a general election would only be called on an updated list.

Buoyed by the shoring up of his popularity in Stone Polls after his involvement in the American invasion of Grenada in 1983, Seaga called the election and won all 60 seats because the PNP did not participate. With all of those electoral negatives working against it, the PNP decided to participate in the local government elections and created history when it won by getting 56% of the popular vote and 128 of the 187 divisions.

 

WHO WILL WIN?

 

In the local government elections to be contested on November 28, the PNP is hoping that it can do what it did in June 1986 and what the JLP did in June 2003 when the JLP as an opposition party won those local government elections.

The thing is, in 2003 there had been a trend which was moving against the PNP since the general elections of December 2002 and that ended up in the win, however narrow for the JLP in September of 2007.

At least one pollster now has his findings on what is likely to happen on November 28. Another pollster is in the field as I write. Coming after the major polls jitters in Jamaica in February, the Brexit surprise and the Trump stunner, I would be very scared at this time to be a pollster.

Hopefully, in those findings will be answers to some pressing questions: Do Jamaican voters care much about local government elections after general elections? That's an easy answer. No! Only hardcore supporters turn out, and worse, the politicians from both sides of the aisle cater their messages only to this small chunk of their diehard supporters.

At present, it seems that garbage collection is being used as raw, untreated politics in the upcoming elections. We are told that NSWMA's budget for garbage clearance islandwide is $4.5 to $5.0 billion, yet in the latest numbers, only $2.8 billion was budgeted.

This goes beyond PNP and JLP and is sound reason as to why the general population believes the whole local government machinery is broken to bits. At one level, there is a major disconnect between Minister of Health Chris Tufton's fight on the Zika V front, while NSWMA is forced to play musical chairs with garbage collection.

In the June 2003 local government elections, the turnout was 41%. In the December 2007 elections, it was 38%. In March 2012 it was 35%. See a trend?

 

LOW TURNOUT

 

Outside of the quirks in local government election wins, conventional wisdom would dictate that the JLP is likely to win on November 28. With another low turnout expected, the question is, will those hardcore party voters be making judgment based on more than just garbage collection, mosquitoes and clogged up gullies?

The biggest concern at this time is the wave of vicious criminality taking place all over the island, especially in parishes that were normally havens of peace and tranquility, like Portland.

If the judgment runs outside of just proximate community matters, the JLP may find itself in a spot of bother. But if the JLP can provide the carnival, then let the people enjoy it. But take nothing for granted, Prime Minister Holness.

observemark@gmail.com.