Mark Wignall | Lessons for the PNP
Communities like Juno Pen, Enfield, and Leinster are not at all known to many people living in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, but just about everyone knows Annotto Bay, if even from the folk song of old.
Last Sunday, I spent some time in these and other areas of South East St Mary, stopping by bars and shops and chatting with people of all political stripes and many who professed to having none. The funniest thing I heard was in Annotto Bay where a 50-year-old fisherman said to me, "St Mary man nuh call nuh man Sugar. A wah dat?" in reference to the People's National Party (PNP) dubbing its candidate, Dr Shane Alexis, as 'Sugar Shane'.
Voters and non-voters in the constituency are fixated on local matters and it is utterly amazing to me how the PNP made the decision to run a national campaign in a rural constituency where purely local matters like farming subsidies, jobs for young people, poor roads, and water supplies are always on the menu.
Major mistakes were made by the PNP. All of the heavyweights in the party, including the veterans, were in the constituency at various times leading up to election day. When their cumulative experience is added up, what obtained was about 500 years of political experience reading it absolutely wrong.
"Di PNP have whole heap a bus come dung yah wid man wi nuh know, and some a dem gwaan bad," said the fisherman, who also admitted that when provoked, some of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) female supporters returned the cussing just as spirited as they got it.
CONFIDENCE OF THE JLP
I must confess that when Daryl Vaz told me one week before the election that the JLP would be winning the seat by between 750 and 1,000 votes, I thought he was being overly optimistic.
"I am feeling good," he said. "Very good."
With him in charge of fundraising, Montague as campaign manager and General Secretary Horace Chang marshalling the day-to-day activities in the constituency, it was a study in contrasts between PNP hype and JLP substance.
"Dr Dunn a Miss Eula boy, and him born inna 'Natta Bay, but inna di general election, him neva bring it up. Him leave Bay when him 'bout 11, so wi decide wi gwine hype it up inna di by-election,' said a local JLP worker, who called herself Cynthie.
A JLP official told me that, "... One key part of our strategy was to commit every JLP supporter with taking in another voter. We were already ahead of the PNP in terms of how many we had enumerated and were fairly sure would vote JLP, so coming out of the local government elections last year and that, we began with a guaranteed win. All we had to do after that was to get out the vote on election day. And that is what we did."
It is my understanding that before the PNP decided on Dr Shane Alexis, many well-known PNP names, young up-and-coming future leaders were offered the seat, but they turned it down. They apparently smelled the rat of the significant JLP victory to come and didn't want their future to be sullied by a loss at this time.
Much has been spoken and written about the extent to which money and vote-buying influenced the outcome:
"It's a smokescreen," said a young, disgruntled PNP member of parliament (MP) to me. "In the week before the election, our party got some serious cash infusion from some private sector big boys who favour Phillips over Holness. But what did we do with it?
"Pay for taking PNP supporters from outside the area dressed in Alexis T-shirts, while the JLP was spending at shops and bars in the constituency. Instead of spending in the constituency, we had to fund those hype outsiders with lunch, drinks, and, of course, the useless buses had to be paid for."
The MP also said, "Vote-buying is a gamble and it is not something confined to any one political party. What the PNP must do now if it doesn't want a revolt of the young on its hands is do a serious analysis and stop making fool-fool excuses.
"The JLP totally outfoxed us and the much vaunted PNP organisational ability is now a myth."