Thu | Dec 9, 2021

Independents have seen better days

Published:Thursday | March 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM


THE HEADLINE, content and tone of the 'Letter of the Day' by Joseph Cornwall Sr in last Saturday's Gleaner (March 10), insinuating that independents are only now on the verge of political achievement, is not only misleading, but it is actually the reverse of the historical facts. And while I empathise with Mr Cornwall's passion regarding the plight of current independents, it does not excuse his lack of knowledge of the influence and earlier gains of independents in our political history since adult suffrage.

Indeed, independents started out with a bang in the very first general election in 1944, capturing five of the 32 seats, with three remaining as independents for that term and one (Harold Allan) even utilised by Bustamante as the first finance minister. Some had defeated both Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP) candidates, and their success stretched to two more seats (including Allan) in the next election in 1949. But since then, the only independents whose reputation have resonated favourably with the electorate are mostly those who had former connections to the two major parties, such as Cleve Lewis (North and North West St Elizabeth, 1955 and 1959), Rose Leon (West Rural St Andrew, 1955) and Marlene Elliott (West Central St Catherine, 1993).

Similarly at the local level, it might be a shock for Mr Cornwall to learn that independents swept the first Parochial Board (Parish Council) Elections under adult suffrage in 1947, swamping both the PNP and the JLP with 93 of the 199 divisions, 88,111 (37.6 per cent) of the votes polled and controlled seven of the councils. They even took second place in the next PC elections in 1951, winning 61 divisions, four councils and 19.4 per cent of the votes. But after 1956, when their poll fell to seven per cent and they took only 26 divisions and no council, it became a perennial uphill task for independents in all of the 11 PC elections since that time.

So, while their decline in PC elections have been slower than in the general elections, the major cause has clearly been the attraction and gravitation to the two major parties and their institutional entrenchment in the country's political system over the years. There might be the perception that the electorate is becoming more disillusioned with the PNP and the JLP, but independents (like third parties) have not really capitalised on that premise.

Confidence and support

Interestingly, in two of the divisions now being contested by expelled JLP-turned-independent candidates, there have been previous independent successes that could be emulated. They are Lorrimers in Trelawny where, in 1951, Independent J.B. Robinson defeated the PNP's J.I. White, and Linstead (St Catherine) where in the same year Independent John P. Gyles trounced both PNP and JLP opponents before later becoming a JLP MP. So I guess there is hope for Messrs Patmore and Nesbitt.

Voters' confidence and support for genuine independents will only be restored when they are perceived as bona fide, honest, hard-working, sincere persons of integrity who can be oblivious of PNP and JLP influence. But how many Independents in recent times are truly independent of the two parties?

Instead of more, we have seen fewer independents contesting both local and general elections for the past 57 years. It is also the wish of many that more genuine independents should come forward and contest all polls, and if they are successful, it certainly would not be "the first time in our history", but rather like 'old-time something coming back again'.