Thu | Oct 1, 2020

Mark Wignall | Tentative readiness by the JLP?

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2020 | 12:05 AM
Ian Allen/Photographer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness addresses Jamaica Labour Party supporters who turned out for the opening of the Clarendon North Central constituency office in Chapelton.
Ian Allen/Photographer Prime Minister Andrew Holness addresses Jamaica Labour Party supporters who turned out for the opening of the Clarendon North Central constituency office in Chapelton.

Two Saturday’s ago, I spoke briefly with a senior member of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), someone who is close to the inner circle of the party and someone who would know about the election date. “I am obviously interested in the date, and I know you are not going to give me that, assuming that the exact day has been finalised. I just need a hint.”

He decided on the spot that words were at a premium. “It will be soon,” he said.

I needed more than that. “I hear you, but how soon?”

“Soon, soon,” was his response as we ended the conversation. A few days after that I was in conversation with another veteran of the party, but while that person operated in all parts of the party, he had no real power where it mattered. Still, I found what he said more than interesting.

“All this talk about landslide,” he said. ‘Foolishness! As far as I see it,we have not done the political work that could put your mind in a state of readiness and almost certainty that you are going to win big. Right now, I am looking at 37 seats.”

The prime minister has been enjoying a large wave of popularity, and as I have noted before, he has that feature of effective leadership in not being too much taken up with the negatives, which every party in power must face. Mostly, he has allowed the chips to fall where they may and for investigative bodies to do what must be done.

He obviously cannot afford to interfere with this wave and the resultant expectations that an election is likely to be called not just soon, but soon, soon. A few months ago, I figured that the PM would hope that his leadership in the overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic would present the nation with, say, a two-week break of no new infections. After that, the all-clear would be given, and elections could be called.

But that was still always a gamble. What happens if a sudden wave of infections spread by foreign-travel contact comes up during the middle of an election campaign where candidates have gone full out? While it would be too late to cancel the elections, it would present a nightmare to politicians on both sides as their projections get thrown off by people trying more to stay in instead of venturing out.

ANTI-MASKERS

The PM has signalled that he intends to call it anyway, and, who knows, maybe his gamble will pay off.

The prime minister has been making appeals to many in the voting population of this country. By now, he knows that people listen to him, and increasing numbers are holding him to his word and will follow his directions as long as they see him as ‘walking in the same direction’ as they are.

There are significant pockets of anti-maskers in Jamaica, but many of us are likely to mask up if its use in public spaces is strictly required. But what would happen if there was a regulation requiring masks written on paper outside of a polling station and a voter refused to wear one? One would hope that if that were to be the requirement, the necessary legal framework would be in place before any confusion happened.

“Will you be voting in the next elections?” I asked a shopkeeper last Wednesday.

“If dem gimme some building materials and help wid schoolbooks,” she said.

“Come on! Be serious!” I said.

She told me that she was. I left it there.

A 44-year old labourer, who told me he was a People’s National Party supporter, said: “Mi si Holness a do nuff nuff and young people like him, an him always show up when a big trouble happen to people.”

A 40-something painter and mason simply said: “PNP did dey dey and dem never do nutten. Wi fi gi Holness another chance.”

I was having trouble finding someone who could offer some support for Peter Phillips. A taxi driver came and he bought a Guinness. I asked him about voting and the next elections. He was in his late 50s. “Phillips a talk all di tings dem whey talk 20 years ago. Fi him time done.”

HURRICANES, VIRUS AND VOTING

As is normal in an election campaign, the party that is most organised and cash rich on election day has a 90 per cent and better chance of winning the elections.

At this stage, the PM cannot afford to play the Sunday School teacher by chiding too roundly those of his MPs who have found themselves in trouble with what used to be their ministerial duties. At this stage, he needs every single vote that was marked in February 2016, and he needs to deny the PNP any attempts to pick up extra seats.

Nothing has come to me to indicate that the ruling JLP has any undue internal divisions. Although the PNP has not shown any increases in the disunity it had, there is no doubt that there are still significant numbers of PNP MPs who are expecting the negative opinion poll findings of Phillips to affect them in their constituencies. But for now, they prefer to grin and bear it and soldier on like brave troopers as many of them are likely to follow in the leader’s certain exit.

As of this moment, it is difficult to say the extent to which COVID 19 is likely to affect the voter turnout. Will the still quiet mass of the unemployed bring their collective anger and genuine frustrations and strike a blow against the incumbent JLP?

In addition, should a destructive hurricane pay us a most unwelcome visit and the elections are forced into next year, it is obvious that we will have to scrub all plans and redraft it all over again.

COVID-19 and hurricanes and hard times will have to coexist with elections. Next week, we look at the likely winners and those expected to lose.

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