Mon | Feb 17, 2020

Mark Wignall | Why the JLP fell short of a tsunami

Published:Thursday | April 11, 2019 | 12:13 AM

If the East Portland by-election was viewed by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as a gastronomical feast, then, instead of the huge fatted calf that it expected to be spread out on its table for feasting on, it had to settle for a few goats ready for the curry pot. While the People’s National Party (PNP) went home sulking and hungry.

Both parties overperformed. The JLP did much better than 2016, by Ann-Marie Vaz having a longer toehold on the constituency, a better oiled and resourced political machinery and a party leader whose comparison to PNP leader Dr Peter Phillips is now a given in assisting election wins.

A well-known JLP activist of old, who did not want his name called, had been in the constituency two weeks before.

“As far as money goes, I am a small fry. I have mi likkle car so apart from doing some get-out-the-vote activities on election day, I did some last-­minute organising in a small area. I get pay fi using my car. The JLP look after dem field workers and election-day workers. We beat PNP in that area,” he shared.

“So why did the JLP not hit the 10,000 mark (it came close) and add an extra 500 to 750?” I asked.

“We know our traditional voters. Older, more loyal. All we have to do is get them out if they have travel problems. Some of the younger voters hear all sort a duppy story ’bout vote buying …”

“… Was the JLP buying votes, and how?” I asked.

“Not in the sense you are thinking of,” he said, while breaking out into raucous laughter. “If a man in charge of a cluster of runners and di party give him $30,000 to $50,000 to pay some people for party work, a man may si dat and sey to himself money a run.

“If him is going to be a first-time voter, him is advertising that him not voting unless him collect some cash. This is all about the ‘education’ of the voter and his contribution to increasing his own clout over the politician.”

“So, what are you saying then about the tsunami which never materialised?”

“I am saying that whole heap a people was in dem home and in the streets who wanted to vote for the JLP but want money fi mek the final vote. It force us to get out a higher percentage of our traditional, older voters.”


It is a dangerous business for politicians to openly buy votes. The chance of getting caught and bringing the entire party into disrepute makes it not worth it.

Vote buying is often associated with internal elections and delegate-vote buying. If the ‘need’ arises out of a ‘win at all costs’ scenario, the trick is to pointedly select voters from the opposing party, ink their fingers the day before, pay them and then on election day just sit back and watch and the opposition vote is suppressed.

Add to that the fact that any sign of vote buying the PNP can conjure up or cite about the JLP’s surreptitious ‘vote enhancement’ measures in elections screams hypocrisy at its loudest, as they have both been there, done that, won some and lost a few.

If no one is caught and both have done it, the political mercenary would say, get over it and pass the champagne.

An increasing number of potential voters are becoming willing partners in ‘vote enhancement’ and Paul Burke, past general secretary of the PNP, has made himself into a pesky politician who has a nasty habit of telling inconvenient truths. On vote buying.

Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to and