Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Mark Wignall | Ruling party seems to be on cruise control

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2020 | 12:53 AM

Robert Miller aka ‘Big Rob’ JLP’s South East St Catherine candidate is nominated at the Edgewater Civic Center, in Portmore, St Catherine on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
Robert Miller aka ‘Big Rob’ JLP’s South East St Catherine candidate is nominated at the Edgewater Civic Center, in Portmore, St Catherine on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

Earlier this year, at a time when COVID-19 had not yet rudely intruded into our daily lives, Dr Peter Phillips led his People’s National Party (PNP) troops on an islandwide bus tour. “We knew that the pollsters would be going out soon, so it was a way of rousing PNP support islandwide,” a PNP member of parliament told me then.

After the tour, an islandwide poll was done. It showed numbers absolutely devastating to the PNP. Just 58 per cent of those who had voted PNP in 2016 indicated that they would be voting for the party again in the next elections.

In comparison, 81 per cent of those who voted Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) said they would vote for the JLP again.

If you think about that for a while and you are a PNP supporter, a despairing reality may set in. At just about the time when the opposition PNP was out and about and trying to muster enthusiasm, it all seemed to fall flat.

In essence, you still believe in your party, and you also believe it is always a better choice than the JLP, but there are not enough Comrades sharing your enthusiasm. It was not so in 2019, early in 2020, and, in the heart of a spike in cases of COVID-19, the momentum still is in favour of the JLP.

That enthusiasm is being fuelled by JLP leader Andrew Holness and his performance ratings in running the economy and in managing the COVID 19 pandemic.

When all the poll numbers are examined, there is one big pointer showing the PNP’s best path to victory and that is investing in the hope that 2025 comes around quicker than usual.

As I write this column, there are still poll numbers coming in. Not a single finding so far has provided the PNP with a security blanket.

With, on average, all three main polls indicating a swing for the JLP from the 2016 elections to now at about 17 per cent to 20 per cent, I expect the JLP not only to hold all of their seats won in 2016 plus the by election wins, but I expect at least another nine to be added.

If the overall swing was homogeneous throughout the constituencies, the September 3 elections would turn out to be a disappointment for the PNP. In that case, only the PNP garrisons would be secure for the party.

In such a scenario, reliable PNP seats like South East St Ann would be in play for the JLP, and the vote count in a seat like Central Westmoreland would put PNP on a back footing.

SPOILER MAY SHOW UP

With the recent increase in cases of COVID-19, a few people I have spoken with have told me that the spike could scare them away from voting. The extent to which the electoral office is able to convince electors that the process will be safe, sanitisation in place, dipping ink infused with alcohol, etc, would mitigate such fears.

But even if those fears exist to any appreciable percentage, and it depresses the overall turnout, a few facts ought to be remembered. Even with the abysmally low turnout in 2016 of below 48 per cent, the JLP was able to swipe 12 seats from the PNP and win the elections in a squeaker.

Second, polls have consistently shown that the PNP’s base is made up of a higher percentage of those in the 55 and over age cohort than the JLP. What this means is that if the fear factor of contracting COVID-19 over the very act of voting obtains, it is the PNP whose numbers will be depressed. It seems that macka juck the PNP anywhere it turns and walks.

Now that the country is experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases, will some voters blame the JLP, turn on it and vote PNP come Thursday of this week? That may not be the case in significantly large numbers because the communication from the health and wellness minister and the PM has consistently kept in touch with the reality of COVID- 19 spread.

Many people have turned inwards on themselves and blamed ‘bad behaving’ Jamaicans for the spike even as they acknowledge that political campaigns are large bubbles of indiscipline.

POLITICAL DEBATES AND TOO MANY PROMISES

I am not a big fan of glossy party manifestos and political debates although I recognise that love them or hate them, they are impossible to avoid.

In a competitive political marketplace, one political party has a need to one-up the other, so in feeding on each other, both the JLP and the PNP will find themselves shooting for the Moon in manifestos and debates.

Debates are easily won by bright people with commanding voices and those who can massage policy or make them up on the spot. It could be that there was a small percentage of people hoping that they could be swung either way by a debate or a glossy manifesto filled with an overload of impressive words beautifully strung together and designed to trap the gullible.

That in itself is problematic because those to whom the manifestos are directed are thought to be the least politically gullible. On that basis, the PNP’s WEALTHY plan is being largely judged as the last stirs of a party in its moment of desperation.

I believe that the biggest and most important factor that will feature in this election will be trust. Who do you trust to take this country through 2021 and beyond?

Will it be the party whose recent track record in handling COVID-19 has been given high marks? That would be the incumbent JLP.

And if that party is being seen as the one best positioned to take us into 2021 and beyond, there is not much left on the plate for the PNP, which will be swamped come Thursday night. The danger facing the PNP is how well it handles the post-election defeat, which could be the case.

It has to solve its leadership problem this year and tarry no more.

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