Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Government's wrong-headed majoritarianism

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller


"But I have won three elections" was how Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's then embattled prime minister - who has since changed the constitution to engineer himself into the presidency of the country, à la Vladimir Putin - was reported by The Economist, in June 2013, to have growled at his critics.

In August this year, after Mr Erdogan won his ninth consecutive electoral victory in 12 years, many question the fairness of aspects of those polls. The Economist this time ran a cover story about the then Turkish president-elect under the banner headline, 'Turkey's presidential elections: The next sultan?' A sultan is an absolute ruler.

Well, in the almost 26 years since February 9, 1989 when the People's National Party (PNP) won 45 seats in Parliament against the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) 15 seats, the PNP has held state power for almost 22 years. The PNP won five out of six general elections, and has, therefore, held the commanding heights of the Jamaican economy and delivered the results Jamaicans have had to live with.

One detects that like Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) party in Turkey, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and some in her PNP hierarchy in Jamaica are reacting to their fellow citizens - and that often just-barely tolerated group of citizen-professionals known as journalists - through the political prism of majoritarianism.

Majoritarian politics happens or exists when the majority of the population, through its political party, is in charge of making key political decisions and does not seek or accept the opinions of the minority. In modern Jamaica, majoritarianism has to be tweaked to replace 'the majority of the population' with the 'majority of citizens that voted'.

This tweaking is important because Prime Minister Simpson Miller, her party chairman and many of her most staunch supporters may be forgetting that in four of the last five general elections since 1993, less than 50 per cent of the voter-age population (VAP) turned out to vote, according to data from the Electoral Commission. In 2002, we piped 50 per cent of the VAP when 50.89 per cent of the voting-age citizens went to the polls.


Majoritarian politics is often not inclusive of minority opinions. The PNP is showing great disrespect to Jamaicans these days, and they are forgetting that they do not even have a majority of possible voters with them. In the 2011 general election, only 46.18 per cent of the voting-age population turned out to vote. Mrs Simpson Miller and her party won a majority of that minority.

The theory holds that if a government does not have an overall majority, majoritarian politics is not very feasible. Whoever they perceive the minority to be, if we go on the words of the PNP chairman, Minister Robert Pickersgill, the PNP's perception of the 'minority view' is one of irrelevance and apparent abject disrespect. Thus he declared that "no ordinary Jamaican is speaking about it ... . Twitter? Twitter is ordinary Jamaican? Ordinary Jamaicans know anything about Twitter?"

The suggestion seems to be that Jamaicans are too dunce, or too stupid, or obviously too poor to afford or be involved with Twitter. That is a chilling indictment by the chairman of the PNP of his party, which has formed the government and managed the Jamaican economy for 22 of the last 26 years!

The disrespect is nothing new. We well remember his offensive "time of the month" comment the term before September 2007 when he was previously in government as a minister.

This time, he equalled or topped that comment by declaring Twitter users as the "articulate minority". Clearly, he harbours deep disregard for those whom he views as a minority - not his people - in Jamaica. One suspects that the "inarticulate majority" are to listen to him and his leader and not speak either. Political majoritarianism has been transformed into the viral disease of broad-based national disrespect.

About two weeks ago, his party leader, our prime minister, decided to pull rank on her party chairman and became Jamaican disrespecter-in-chief. Without necessarily subscribing to the theory, she adopted practical political majoritarianism fulsomely. She flatly refused to dismiss the recalcitrant remnant of the National Housing Trust (NHT) board that had lost its quorum and efficacy - all by resignations of persons she appointed and must have respected.

Once again, the PNP leader has chosen to support party loyalists over what many Jamaicans view as the interest of the country. No listening, no dialogue with those who do not agree with her. But so it was in the Richard Azan case; the same when May Pen Mayor Scean Barnswell was charged by the DPP on the recommendation of the Office of the Contractor General.

The prime minister followed the disrespectful course with the EWI fiasco and defended and protected Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and the chikungunya-drop-the-ball Fenton Ferguson, whose state of denial and inaction led to widespread national physical pain.


Prime Simpson Miller's loyalty to persons who have been extremely supportive of her has led her to use that loyalty and "this-is-PNP-country" approach to ladle out what has every appearance of disrespect to the Jamaican people on the NHT governance and Outameni issues.

If she feels this strongly about dissenting ordinary Jamaicans, those who dare to disagree with her within the party she rules must feel excruciating heat and painful excommunication from her inner circle. The prime minister is said to have a vice-like hold on the delegates in her party so no Comrade dares challenge her. In her and her party chairman's minds, the PNP has a vice-like hold on Jamaica; therefore, the chattering class of the "articulate minority" does not matter.

The Economist puts it this way: "Beyond documents and institutions, the difference between crass majoritarianism and democracy resides in the heads of the mighty. Democrats have a bedrock understanding that the minority (or often majority) who did not vote for them are as much citizens of their country as those who did, and are entitled to a respectful hearing; and that a leader's job is to deliberate and act in the national interest, not just those of his (or her) supporters."

Mohamed Morsi in Egypt disregarded this principle and believed he only had to listen to his supporters in his Muslim Brotherhood party. He did not last. There is talk that is becoming common - that "Portia reigns (like a queen, and reigning queens are not democrats) but does not govern". She makes it clear she has divested governance to her ministers. As the minister responsible for the NHT, governance responsibility seemed to have been divested to Easton Douglas, and she regally disregarded her "subjects'" dissidence about his poor governance practices as irrelevant.

In her practice of insensitive and uncaring majoritarianism, she should keep in mind that the majority of voting-age Jamaicans did not vote for her or her party. The "inarticulate majority" may yet speak forcefully against her.

Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader. Email feedback to and, or tweet @Hillaubyn.