Colin Campbell | Election 2020 entering the home stretch
Two weeks ago, I wrote in a column that the 2020 general election was too early to call, which is in contradistinction to being ‘too close to call’.
Indeed, reactions varied, mainly because some people are confusing a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lead in the poll with a swing to the JLP. Those caught in this trap conclude that a poll lead is equivalent to a win because they perceive it as a swing to the JLP. Wrong! Each seat requires a different lead to swing from one side to the other.
In the period since the article, much has taken place to prepare the wicket for a general election in the third quarter of the calendar, or Q2 of the fiscal year.
The prime minister, and leader of the JLP, has moved to fulfil a promise that the election would not be held during the period of states of emergency. So they will end on July 25, 2020, according to National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang.
Andrew Holness has moved to quiet the golden-agers and the nursery by handing out new Cabinet appointments, which have brought back in line some who had vowed not to campaign because of the uncertainty about their future and others who had been reticent to enter the political departure lounge. They are not all happy as yet.
On the part of the People’s National Party, Dr Peter Phillips has announced that all 63 candidates are now confirmed, and a reimagined campaign and its supporting communication programme are ready. Of even greater significance were strategic appointments of Peter Bunting in his new roles as co-campaign director and leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives and Lisa Hanna as chief spokesman. It is a move likely to excite the base and redounds to the party’s benefit and could potentially move the needle on the crucial issue of voter turnout.
Any analysis of the 2016 results will show that turnout was the decisive factor in that election as the PNP pulled in fewer votes than it did in 2011 and the JLP increased its share marginally. The extent to which the unity strategy increases PNP morale and, therefore, voter turnout remains to be seen. However, positive initial feedback is being reported from all levels of the party’s machinery.
What effect will these have on the marginal seats that could be significant? It also fits into my belief that the 2020 elections will be mortal hand-to-hand combat in many of these battleground constituencies.
In 2011, on the back end of the JLP’s Dudus adventure, the PNP swept them out of office by a handsome margin of 42-21. In 2016, on the back end of high PNP voter abstentions, arising from a backlash over poor treatment, the JLP squeaked to victory with 32 to the PNP’s 31, with many of them being decided with fewer than 500 votes.
Constituency PNP JLP Margin Winner
SE St Mary 7324 7319 5 PNP
NW St Ann 8461 8051 391 PNP
N Trelawny 9611 9162 449 PNP
S St James 6278 6216 62 PNP
SE St Catherine 7553 7025 528 PNP
E St Andrew 7015 7186 171 JLP
W St Thomas 9154 9568 414 JLP
SE St Elizabeth 9018 9223 215 JLP
NE St Catherine 5763 5885 122 JLP
EC St Catherine 5721 6215 494 JLP
NC Clarendon 5694 6230 536 JLP
ER St Andrew 9432 10101 669 JLP
E Hanover 6046 6386 342 JLP
SW St Ann 6849 7186 337 JLP
Source Electoral Office of Jamaica
As the table shows, the JLP is defending more marginal seats than the PNP. In 2020, the same constituencies that determined the 2016 result are likely to feature again to determine who enters Jamaica House.
The approaches of the parties to winning in 2020 appear contrasting. The PNP is going for young, accomplished, home-grown candidates. At the same time, the JLP is clothing theirs with state offices to increase profiles and utilise the trappings and benefits of office to boost their fortunes.
Here are some examples of the PNP’s candidates:
- Dr Andre Haughton (home-grown) – West Central St James
- Dr Shane Alexis – South East St Mary
- Dr Walton Small (home-grown) – South St James
- Mark Malabver – Western St Thomas
- Wavell Hinds – Eastern Hanover
- Michael Hemmings, attorney-at-law (home-grown) – East Central St James
- Dr Jason Stanford (home-grown) – Western St Mary
- Dr Desmond Brennan (home-grown) – North Central Clarendon
- Raymond Pryce – East Central St Catherine
Here are some examples of the JLP’s candidates:
- Leslie Campbell – North East St Catherine
- Tova Hamilton – North Trelawny
- Robert Nesta Morgan (home-grown) – North Central Clarendon
- Pearnel Charles Jr – South East Clarendon
- Fayval Williams, minister of energy – Eastern St Andrew
- Frank Witter, Deputy Speaker of the House – South East St Elizabeth
- Zavia Mayne (home-grown) – South West St Ann
- Robert Miller – South East St Catherine
It seems, therefore, that the PNP is projecting the best of what various communities have produced to do the hand-to-hand combat in the areas that nurtured them. Dr Jason Stanford and Dr Andre Haughton are perhaps the best examples.
For the JLP, the meteoric rise by Leslie Campbell and the last-minute Senate seat for Tova Hamilton are the clearest examples of the JLP’s plan.
Both the PNP and the JLP seem to agree that the ground game in the constituencies is critical and would not conform to the strategy of the long coattails of the incumbent party leaders. Some constituencies are unlikely to see either of the leaders in the flesh in this COVID-19 campaign environment.
However, that is not to say the leaders will not have an impact. Dr Phillips, the steady and experienced hand, is up against Mr Holness, the young populist who, in the analogy of cricket, is covering for a generally weak batting side.
Air coverage, which speaks to all aspects of communication, is also essential. In some ways, the public uses it as a barometer of who is gaining momentum and winning.
As we embrace this new-style campaign, necessitated by the novel coronavirus, the political landscape has changed; mass meetings will be less significant.
My analysis is that the role and behaviour of candidates will be decisive, and those with the potential for greatness cannot hide in the crowd. Outstanding people will have to do outstanding things to get outstanding results.
Whether your school motto is ‘The Utmost for the Highest’, ‘The Brave May Fall But Never Yield’, ‘Life More Abundant’, ‘Learn or Leave’, or ‘Persevere and Excel’, the VOTE 2020 will require candidates who can lift their game as required in school.
Colin Campbell is the former minister of information.