How to lose an election
This column, written by Michael Abrahams, was published yesterday on www.jamaica-gleaner.com.
The People's National Party (PNP) was confident of victory in the last general election. Polls repeatedly showed that they enjoyed a slim lead over the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) among likely voters. Their favourability rating exceeded that of their opponent, and some experts were predicting that they would win over 40 of the 63 seats in parliament.
Under the PNP administration, the economy is showing signs of recovery. We are passing International Monetary Fund (IMF) tests, our stock market was the best performer globally last year, Fitch Ratings Agency upgraded our ratings, and we are seeing increased foreign investor confidence in our island. Tourism is booming and we are experiencing a record winter season; food imports are down; and our Ministry of Health has a new minister, chief medical officer, and a new and better attitude. So, why did the PNP lose what many, including lots of labourites, thought that they had in the bag?
NOT TO BE BLAMED
At her inauguration, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller promised accountability and transparency, then promptly announced a cabinet that was larger than the one she criticised former Prime Minister Bruce Golding over, and demanded that he reduce it, calling it a "breakfront". The over $60 million spent on SUVs for government ministers did not help much either.
Then there was the chikungunya epidemic. The populace was inadequately prepared, costing lives and dealing a mammoth blow to our fragile economy. Despite this, the minister of health and the chief medical officer still kept their posts, with the prime minister defending the health minister, saying that he was doing a good job because he "turns up for clean-ups".
The fire at the Riverton City dump was another sore point. The conflagration sent over 800 persons to hospitals and health centres. The Ministry of Health's response was sluggish, and when it became public knowledge that the dump, which is supposed to be a landfill, was being mismanaged, the prime minister defended the Executive Director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), Jennifer Edwards, saying that she was not to be blamed because she did not start the fire.
More recently, following the Health Ministry's inadequate response to the deaths of 19 premature babies from bacterial infections and the release of a damning audit of our health sector, rather than sack the minister of health for his chronic incompetence, he was transferred to another ministry.
Simpson Miller also reinstated Richard Azan after his involvement in the unauthorised construction and illegal rental of shops at the Spalding Market; claimed to know nothing of the National Housing Trust/Outameni deal; and reneged on her statement that she would address the buggery law.
There were also questions regarding the manner in which some internal elections were conducted. In East Portland, Andrea Moore got more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, but he still 'won'; and Peter Blake garnered more votes than Damion Crawford in East Rural St Andrew but then was replaced by Imani Duncan Price. These results left a bad taste in the mouths of many, including comrades.
All of the above-mentioned damaged the credibility of the prime minister and the government, and the fact that Mrs Simpson Miller made herself scarce and avoided the media only served to make matters worse. However, despite these factors, the party was still expected to win the election, which brings us to their rather bizarre campaign.
At a rally on the campaign trail, the prime minister used the word "con" three times to refer to Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and his 10-point plan. When Holness retaliated by referring to her as a con-artist, however, all hell broke loose, with the demand for an apology, the threat of a lawsuit, and the refusal to debate. A strange full-page ad in the Gleaner followed, listing transgressions by Holness and demands that he address certain issues and answer questions, including nine about his house. The PNP also made it clear that these issues must be dealt with before debating, and that even if they did decide to debate, declared that it would have to be town-hall style and that they did not want to be questioned by journalists.
Despite pressure from the JLP, the populace, the media, the private sector and the church, the PNP obstinately refused to debate, and when Holness provided information regarding his house, they still chose to dwell on the issue.
Meanwhile, the JLP worked hard on the ground, hosting a series of Prosperity Live meetings in auditoriums islandwide, with Mr Holness presenting himself at every meeting, along with other candidates, and fielding questions from the audience. His promise of removing income tax for those earning under $1.5 million annually was dismissed by the PNP, and challenged by many, and in response, he set up a website, 10pointplan.com, specifically to address this.
The JLP also produced an app that provided access to its manifesto and other information related to its campaign and plans.
The party annihilated the PNP in social media as well, a deliberate strategy, as all candidates were instructed to utilise at least one social media platform. The "articulate minority" comment by Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill came back to haunt them, and #ArticulateMinority was all over social media on election night.
When the prime minister and the opposition leader were both asked what they would do if they lost the election, their responses spoke volumes. Holness responded by saying, "I am always here to serve the people of Jamaica". Portia Simpson Miller retorted: "If I lose? What kind of question are you asking? Do I look like a loser to you?" The high-handed attitude of the PNP offended many Jamaicans, including some of their own supporters, who stayed home, while mobilising many uncommitted to vote them out of office.
Broken promises, lack of transparency and accountability, arrogance, failure to recognise the power and influence of social media, an absent leader, and possibly the most bizarre election campaign the country has ever seen led to the demise of the PNP at the polls. I strongly recommend that their hierarchy read The Tortoise and the Hare, one of Aesop's Fables, and learn from their mistakes.