Trumpet sounding, bell tolling for JLP?
The People’s National Party (PNP) massive has been summoned to Half-Way Tree this evening, ground zero for PNP election announcement, the party fired up by its four per cent lead over the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The trumpet will give no uncertain sound tonight when Portia Lucretia Simpson hits that platform amid euphoria and jubilation.
It has been a rough and rocky ride to Half-Way Tree. It seemed that all was set for a 2015 election until the dead babies issue buried the party’s chances of winning. Added to that were the un-PNP-like squabbles and ‘ruption’ in various constituencies and the failure of party central to bring order to the chaos. Portia wisely stood still to see the salvation of the Lord rather than taking her chance in the Red Sea. But now, her Master has touched her, and it is widely expected that tonight, she will make known His revelation.
But aside from the divine intervention, there have been some positive earthly manifestations for the PNP in recent times. On the day that the RJR-TVJ-Don Anderson polls revealed that the PNP had a four-point lead over the JLP, it was announced that Jamaica had made a significant advance in a critical area of national concern corruption. Jamaica moved an impressive 16 places in the authoritative Corruption Perception Index for 2015, jumping from 85 out of 175 countries to 69 out of 168 countries.
“Jamaica moved closer to being among the least corrupt in the Americas,” gloated Justice Minister Mark Golding last Thursday, “having improved from a rank of 14th of 31 countries in 2014 to seventh of 26 in 2015, making it into the top 25 per cent in the Americas for the first time in nine years.” As Mr Anti-Corruption Professor Trevor Munroe said in his press conference announcing the results on Wednesday, Jamaicans in the Don Anderson polls of December 2014 identified “corruption over the years as the main reason for hard times some Jamaicans are facing now”, even ahead of “harsh IMF terms”.
And in a poll commissioned by the National Integrity Action and conducted by Don Anderson in December 2014, less than five per cent of Jamaicans believed the authorities were providing strong leadership against corruption.
Mark Golding, as well as Trevor Munroe, pointed to several important pieces of legislation enacted by the PNP administration that have advanced the anti-corruption struggle. On Monday, INDECOM reported with much satisfaction that figures for last year showed that police fatal shootings, an important index of human rights, dipped below 100 for the first time in 16 years. There was a 15.5 per cent decrease in police fatal shootings last year.
And just a few days ago, no less a figure than the director general of the powerful World Trade Organization (WTO) was here to praise Jamaica for its progress in trade facilitation and economic reform. News has just emerged that business and consumer confidence is up and Jamaica ended last year with the best-performing stock market in the world a stock market that surged 80 per cent in that year.
Colleague columnist Mark Wignall, who usually has his ears to the ground and who is no armchair columnist, says in his Wednesday column titled ‘Why should we elect the JLP?’: “With business and consumer confidence on the upswing, Forbes telling us that Jamaica’s ease of doing business has made us number one in the region, and overall moderate growth predicted, the JLP’s electability test just became a lot more difficult.”
Wignall goes on to say that with Standard & Poor’s putting on record that the JLP has committed itself to the same set of IMF policies being pursued by the PNP (which is causing some hardships), “it makes it much more difficult for the opposition JLP to draw sharply contrasting policy differences that will attract an apathetic electorate”.
Wignall deserves further quoting as he seems to be hitting the issues bullseye. He points out that the challenge for the JLP is to show “radical policy failures” of the PNP”, which the PNP is making no attempt to fix. “At the same time, the Opposition needs to be consistently defining those failures while launching a believable message that it can fix the main bugs in the system.”
The most recent Don Anderson poll showed that 27.5 per cent intend to vote for the PNP, compared to 23.2 per cent for the JLP, with 22.3 per cent saying they have no intention of voting and 17.4% undecided. The two parties will have to go for those who are undecided or uncommitted, and some of those persons have to be reasoned with. Empty and wild propaganda alone can’t convince them to vote out the PNP.
If you look at the raw data, the PNP has a lot going for it. If you don’t want to be confused by the facts, you can ignore all I will cite. Inflation, at 2.9 per cent, is the lowest in 50 years; the net international reserves stood at US$2.91 billion at the end of last year; and our most crippling burden the debt-to-GDP ratio has been sliced by 20 per cent. The Government has boasted a balanced budget. Foreign direct investment has doubled in the last three years.
In an interview with Richard Byles to be aired today, he said that every single macroeconomic indicator of previous concern is going in a positive direction. As Byles pointed out, there have been record investments in tourism, the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, and other areas of the economy. Heineken had a 15 per cent share in Red Stripe and could have chosen to liquidate and get out of Jamaica. Instead, it decided to pump more than US$700 million into the economy as a sign of its confidence.
Interestingly, Byles said that he was at dinner recently with 10 of the country’s top business people and “every one, to a man”, said that he was pleased with the direction of the economy. No less an institution of power and influence than The Gleaner Company named Finance Minister Peter Phillips the Man of the Year.
Yes, it is true that all of this has not trickled down to the man on the street as yet, and many people are feeling some pressure. The JLP has been right to emphasise that it is not enough to pass IMF tests and to have macroeconomic reforms. And credit must be given to the JLP, and particularly to Audley Shaw, for pressing this issue of growth and the need for some stimulus to growth. The JLP has rightly warned against blindly following IMF orthodoxy. But as I have always stressed, without economic reforms, without our correcting the significant structural imbalances in the economy, poor people cannot be helped. Politicians must stop giving people the impression that reckless and populist economic policies will make life better for the poor.
The fact is that the JLP would have to carry out basically the same set of IMF policies. Don’t expect that they are going to throw out the bitter medicine and seek a non-IMF path. That’s fantasy. But the PNP, if it pays careful attention to all the Anderson poll results, not just the one with party standings, should have cause for concern and should not be complacent about winning this election. Fifty-two per cent disagree with the statement that “the country is making progress with the passing of each IMF test”, while only 44% agree.
The PNP is not home and dry. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The Government could do something to outrage the people and everything could change. Portia should name the earliest date. Present poll numbers provide an enormous psychological boost to the PNP’s base and will help with the piggy-back effect on the undecided. Winning an election is about emotional manipulation and framing, not primarily logic and argumentation.
The moneyed classes are firmly behind the PNP, so the party has money to splurge and carry out a strong ground and air campaign. But the PNP would make a fatal mistake if it thinks just trotting out numbers, as I have done in this column, is all that will impress the average man. The JLP will be going after Portia herself and her perceived leadership weaknesses. We are in for a hotly contested fight.
- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.