Editorial: Navigating choppy waters
Jamaica, as Bruce Golding suggests, may be heading into uncharted, and potentially perilous, political waters. But with measured and sensible leadership, they are not unnavigable.
The immediate dangers lie in the close results from last week's general election, with a single parliamentary seat separating the incumbent People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which seems on course to form the new government. Never before, assuming that the situation holds, will a government have had to endure with such a wafer-thin majority. When the JLP, under Mr Golding, was last in government with a slim majority, after the 2007 election, the party enjoyed a three-seat cushion.
It is understandable, therefore, that there is nervousness and tension at the fluidity of the post-election developments as well as the capacity of the new administration, whichever party emerges as victor, to govern. The concerns are legitimate, but manageable.
Jamaica is not the only country where governments have emerged with thin margins. Indeed, in St Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves' Unity Labour Party (ULP) served a full term with a one-seat majority and was late last year returned to office with a similar margin. Similar situations have occurred in Grenada and in Trinidad and Tobago.
The resolution of potential problems and the prevention of a crisis rest first on adherence to constitutional principles and mature leadership from the political parties. This starts with allowing the final count of votes to be completed in an absence of intimidation, and the official declaration of winners by the electoral authorities.
Any further dispute of outcomes must be pursued through the appropriate legal channels, but should not prevent an orderly and effective transfer of power, but taking into account the special circumstances that now exist. It would be useful, we believe, for the leadership of the two political parties to commit to a code of engagement so that nothing happens, unintentionally, or otherwise, that calls into question, or weakens, Jamaica's democracy. Legitimate opposition must not cross the line into undue agitation and obstructionism.
If it is the JLP, as we expect it to be, that forms the government, the new administration must be careful to do nothing to undermine the hard-won macroeconomic stability and the IMF's critical seal of good housekeeping, even as it pursues its campaign promises, including its proposed big income tax give-back to some category of workers.
Andrew Holness, the JLP's leader, insists that the promises can be kept while meeting Jamaica's fiscal targets under its agreement with the IMF, which many analysts say is doubtful. The proof will come in the aftermath of the new government's Budget and the scope of the tax plan that is actually implemented. In this regard, we repeat this newspaper's adage: nothing is worse than formulating bad policy than implementing it. So, the new government must be certain that the structure and timing of his tax policy is right.
Mr Holness' other urgent task will be formulating a Cabinet. As we have noted previously, he must not feel driven by the need to reward old loyalists, or party Mandarins. He should choose people, including a strong support for Mr Shaw at finance, on the basis of talent, integrity and honesty, with a blend of experience and youth.