Sat | Aug 19, 2017

The biggest ever election stunner!

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Dr Peter Phillips, People's National Party campaign director, is comforted by a teary-eyed Portia Simpson Miller, the party president, and Chairman Robert Pickersgill on stage at the PNP's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquaters last Thursday night.
Arnaldo Brown was one of the PNP candidates who many experts say was a casualty of his and the party's arrogance.
A Jamaica Labour Party supporter sports a T-shirt telling Portia Simpson Miller that she's had her last hurrah.
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Three days after the democratic process in Jamaica spoke much louder than the loud mouths of politicians, I am not so sure that even the winning party, the JLP, has fully assimilated what really happened.

With two major pollsters indicating a win for the PNP, most pundits giving the edge, the cliff and even the deep ravine to the PNP, it is a shock to the system that will cause most to take time to understand and eventually chart reasons as to why it turned out the way it did.

On the morning of Thursday, February 25, I got up out of bed at my usual early time and stalked the streets. At 6:30, in many of the areas that I drove through, there was a sea of PNP orange-clad Comrades. The green of the JLP was considerably more subdued. The PNP was definitely the winner in the optics match-up.

At about 8:30, Chupski and I were at our voting stations. She was voting for the first time and I was doing the same for the eighth time. The last time I voted was in 2002, and it was for the PNP.

In the latter part of last year, just prior to the dead babies scandal, I found myself trending in party preference to the PNP. I thought that it had done satisfactorily under its big boss, the IMF, and that maybe, if it stuck around a while longer, it could actually create policies to grow the economy and bring development to our people.

Then came the dead babies scandal and the utter arrogance of he who was minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson. I had a change of heart, but I still had a soft spot inside of me for voting for the PNP.

Along came the bungling of the planned 2015 election, and it became obvious that the PNP was not the solid political entity that many thought it was.

As 2016 came around, I and many of my peers were expecting a February election, In fact, I had been seeing it and calling it for February from October 2015. But something happened. Many knew that Portia was being led to call the election in 2015. In other words, there were powerful players in her party who were placing election narratives in her mouth.

In retrospect, those forces could not be blamed simply because the PM was hardly ever 'present' when the 'governance' roll call was sounded. It meant that those forces had usurped her power, if not her actual role, and they had good reason to do so because of her designation as being missing in action.

When opinion polls indicated that Andrew Holness' mansion in Beverly Hills did not create any public negatives towards him, even though the PNP had long planned from as early as 2014 to use it in the election campaign, good political strategy would dictate that the party would drop the subject of the house and move on.

But it was pounced on again, and that fact alone told me that the PNP was not 100 per cent sure about its first place in opinion polls. It was picking at straws and bramble bush. With all of that, we were still convinced by conventional wisdom that the PNP would bounce back and in style.

How wrong we were.

 

PNP ARROGANCE ENDED ITS RUN

 

For many weeks now, I have been writing about a missing element in the local polls that I could not quite place my fingers on. It is usually taken for granted that even if a pollster gets his percentages wrong, he really cannot call one party as the winner, especially in a close race, and then that party turns out losing.

The answer explaining that missing element was answered last Thursday. On that morning, as my lady and I walked into the polling station, one after the other, we both placed votes for the JLP. What did it was the utter arrogance of the PM in not debating the Opposition party and deciding that she alone could arbitrarily change the rules, and, worse, it mattered little what the people thought.

Of course, I recognise that there have been many other elements that drove the voters to mark more Xs for the JLP than the PNP in this the most closely contested election in Jamaica's history with the lowest ever turnout.

The opposition leader's tax plan took on a life of its own, and whoever were the strategists that designed it, it was a masterstroke. As the PNP hauled it over the coals and it was derided by their sympathisers in high places, it was given added life. It was the election item and the bigger menu.

But the PNP also had the hangover of believing that Portia still had her steam, her pepper and her seasonings. It still believed that all that was needed was to put her in the pot and Jamaica would be presented with the best oxtail, the best curry goat, and definitely the best steamed fish.

As the PNP gathered around the stove and the Portia dinner began to cook, someone lifted the pot cover only to discover that it was filled with fish back, turkey neck bones, and there was not even another pot bubbling with rice.

When one asked, 'Portia, how yu sey is oxtail, an all mi si is fish back?' There was a pause, and then the leader of the PNP said, 'Accept what is in the pot and do not expect me to debate the issue!'

It is madly amazing that the JLP administration of 2007-2011 was voted out because of arrogance. With all of that learnt experience, Portia and the PNP stepped up the arrogance game and still expected to be re-elected. Madness.

 

DEMOCRACY ALIVE, BUT DANGER LURKS

 

The accepted view, as deduced from many elections of the past, is that a lower turnout than before the last election will always favour the incumbent.

So, what the hell happened last Thursday?

I suspect, no, I know that it will take our researchers and pollsters many months to explain this Dewey-Truman moment. It cannot be that in this incredibly low turnout of much less than 50 less than it all came down to a match-up between the PNP's base and the JLP's base.

Were that so, the PNP would have taken out approximately 3.5 percentage points more than the JLP in last Thursday's race and would have won about 35 seats.

So, what was it that happened? First, the PNP had big money spending, and not necessarily in terms of using it for taking out the vote on election day. But there were also a few JLP powerhouses who had raw cash on election day.

I was in a little town square near to where I had vote, and three JLP runners were close to where I was. One was complaining that he was not provided with breakfast. The other was bawling that the drivers were not communicating.

As one driver returned, he said, "Mi get gas money, but dem promise mi breakfast. Dis is &@?!"

He left with two voters and then a young woman walked up who another runner identified as a JLP supporter. A runner came to me, and with the strained look on his face, I read the concern. "Would you like me to take the lady to vote?"

And so on election day, I did runner work. But, of course, that does not indicate in any way that others bent over backwards to bring out the JLP vote.

It appears to me that a paradigm has shifted, and it has done so in seismic terms. For whatever was the reason, the PNP's base was no longer locked into the magic of Portia's ability to sell them oxtail for fish back and for her to push on to them that part of her electoral viability that has long entered the emergency room.

The PNP's base went out on that fateful morning last Thursday, and those making it up enjoyed the hype and the colours, the rum and the food. And then they went home without voting.

The good that can be grabbed out of all of the matters that took place on Thursday is that the electorate, even in significantly smaller numbers, is still talking for a much larger majority. The message is, PNP, if you do not get it right, we will reward you with your first ever one-term loss.

The much bigger message is the one being delivered to the JLP and Andrew Holness, even as you read this article. That message is, fail to deliver on your promises and in two years, we will throw you out and destroy the viability of the JLP.

You, too, will be a one-term administration, Andrew Holness and the JLP, if you all do not assist in making our lives better.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.