A good election to lose
As someone whose ears are close to the ground, I could not process the published polls, whose findings indicated that the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were in a statistical dead heat. That is incredible!
My impression has been that the seat count will not be close, and not in favour of the party in power. And I am not factoring internal party turmoil or the dead-babies scandal into the equation.
So when the ruling PNP began to tell people to get on their marks, and to get set, I was looking forward to dozens of broken eggs being splashed on the faces of the pollsters on election night.
The IMF conditionalities chosen by this government are biting hard. The devalued dollar has meant that the rise in the cost of living is noticeable every month, and everyone's almost-frozen wages mean that people are hurting. Party loyalties go only so far, and true-orange citizens of PNP country may soon enter their own winter of discontent.
The swift about-turn last weekend became an absolute necessity when the ruling party received more accurate poll numbers indicating they were heading for defeat.
It's not that the JLP has any better vision for the country than the PNP. In fact, the PNP - by far - has the best articulated vision; their problem is that their actions are so far removed from their words that they can no longer be believed. They, in fact, are practically indistinguishable from the JLP, which has no clear vision for the country.
It's not that the JLP has any better policies and plans to carry Jamaica down the path towards sustainable development, for, if they do, they haven't even given us a hint.
Not a 'green party'
The PNP has not been intolerant of corruption, and the JLP may win the coming election, not because it is any less corrupt. Neither the PNP nor JLP is committed to bringing garrison politics to an end, and thinking Jamaicans who want to see the natural environment protected have nothing to hold on to, for although their party colour is green, the JLP is not a 'green party'.
It is my impression that the Jamaican electorate intends not to vote in the JLP, but to vote out the PNP, not wanting any one party to become entrenched in power for too long.
I don't know if things are going to get better for the PNP in the months ahead. To continue passing the IMF tests, the wage-to-GDP ratio has to fall from the current 10.4% down to nine per cent by 2017. If the government was steadily growing the economy, the ratio would simply fall naturally, with no need for much further action. But with anaemic economic growth, for the ratio to fall, the wage bill has to fall by downsizing the public sector. That won't go over well in an election year.
Year of turmoil
Pension reform can no longer be postponed. Public-sector workers who received a three per cent% wage increase this year may - next year - find themselves being asked to pay three per cent of their wages towards their pensions, wiping out their hard-won salary increases. It is going to be a year of turmoil in the public sector!
No wonder the minister of finance was egging on the prime minister to call the elections this year!
I don't know if the JLP should look forward to winning the next general election. Win they very well might, and then circumstances might find them in an untenable position.
Jamaican public-sector unions are traditional supporters of the PNP, which is why they caved in so easily during the recent wage negotiations, after heavy initial posturing. They will not be as sympathetic to the JLP in government, as it seeks to pass the much tougher and worker-unfriendly upcoming IMF tests.
Since they well might win, I advise the JLP to pull together their membership and supporters, along with people of goodwill who wish Jamaica well, to come up with a clear vision of where they want Jamaica to go over the next few decades.
They will not survive the next term unless they can sell Jamaicans a vision for a new Jamaica, with reduced economic inequality rooted in greater equity in the education system, a more efficient police force respectful of the rights of poor Jamaicans, transparency in political donations, and genuine sustainable development.
I give this advice freely, even though I don't believe the JLP has what it takes to develop a cogent national vision.
The next few months are not going to be pretty.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.