Mon | Dec 6, 2021

Peter Espeut | A chip off the old block

Published:Friday | March 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

For me, the most striking thing about the 2016 general election was that the voter turnout was the lowest in Jamaica’s history, at 47.72 per cent. The victorious party won 436,972 votes or 23.95 per cent of the 1,824,410 votes on the roll. The party which came into power won less than a quarter of the available votes; the Opposition won 433,735 votes or 23.77 per cent of the available votes. More than half of those on the electoral rolls did not vote.

The latest RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson poll findings show that if a general election was called now, 29 per cent of those eligible to vote say they would vote JLP, 18 per cent of voters say they would vote PNP, while 53 per cent say they are undecided.

The poll findings are comparable to the 2016 general election results, because both percentages are of those on the voters’ list.

Is it not interesting that the percentage of “undecided” in the polls is more or less the same as those who did not vote in 2016? It seems to me that there is a significant majority which is impressed neither by the PNP nor the JLP, whether in government or opposition.

The JLP has not benefited as much as it expected from the widespread infrastructure works it is engineering across the island, and the PNP has not benefited as much as it expected from the JLP corruption scandals.

Both parties must be aware by now that it will take something extraordinary for the majority of Jamaican voters who feel politically disaffected to turn out on election day.

Former PNP President P.J. Patterson was made to look good by comparison with the dour and uncharismatic Edward Seaga, and had a long run as prime minister. JLP President Andrew Holness looks good alongside an uninspiring Peter Phillips; his second consecutive term as prime minister seems assured.

SAME OLE, SAME OLE

Andrew Holness is the first Jamaican prime minister born after political independence, but rather than looking new and different as the first of a new generation, recent events make him look like a chip off the old block.

Maybe my expectations were too high; maybe I expected him (as the first prime minister to graduate from a Catholic high school) to firmly capture the moral high ground in political matters. But then the high spend of government money just before a by-election (on de-bushing projects), sounded just like the same ole, same ole.

“Tedeh fe me, tomorrah fe yuh!”

The appointment of party hacks to government boards, along with financial scandals and skullduggery, sounds like déjà vu. This Holness administration smells too much like its corrupt predecessors.

You vote out one corrupt government, and in comes another. You vote out that one, and it is replaced by more corruption. No wonder so many Jamaicans refuse to vote for either black dog or monkey.

When corruption is exposed, resignations are accepted, but no one is held to account in the courts; no one has to give back their ill-gotten gains, be it money or land; miscreants go away laughing with their golden handshakes and non-disclosure agreements.

Same ole, same ole!

I was pleased when the Holness administration banished the Chinese from the Goat Islands; I was pleased when he refused permission for the construction of a coal-fired power plant; I was pleased when he banned single-use plastic bags and styrofoam.

But then he conflicted the environment portfolio by marrying it with job creation; and his government bought a floating dock without the necessary environmental studies and public consultation; and planned the destruction of Allman Town, Woodford Park, and Kingston Gardens to make way for the government complex at Heroes Circle without any public consultation. How is this any different to the behaviour of his predecessors?

A chip off the old block, I say!

All is not lost for Andrew Michael Holness. He can still achieve national hero status by introducing meaningful anti-corruption legislation and practice to Jamaica’s polity. All political donations must be openly declared, and the assets of all politicians and public servants must be made public. Donations will fall, and many will leave politics. So be it!

But we will have a cleaner Jamaica. And many will resume voting.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.