Observations on the Jamaica General Election
by Donna Mattis
Amidst an alarming rise in corona cases this month, Jamaica will go to the polls on September 03.
First respondents to the news were more concerned with the logistics and prudence of holding an election when mass gathering is being shadowed by an invisible enemy and especially when constitutionally one isn’t due until May 2021.
Historically, snap election is a byword for political opportunism: a party is capitalizing on its popularity or wants to secure another term to preempt some upcoming doom to which it’s privy . And although a day is a long time in politics in the current political climate with an impotent Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) in disarray, trying its darndest to put on a united front and although nothing can be taken for granted until that lady sings, it is highly unlikely that fortune will swing like a pendulum in their favour. Besides, the whole nation seems to have been sprinkled with some fairy dust that has put them under some spell. A second term is a foregone conclusion for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). So, why elections now?
Scandals, Scandals, More Scandals And A Sex Scandal
One of the most glaring contradictions that haunt the Andrew Holness administration to the interested few at least, is that this party came in on a ticket lead by a post-Independence birther, who was to bring the enlightenment of youth and herald a new beginning to Jamaican politics that would turn the page on the Old Order, old-style politics. This was supposed to be a grand evolution. Holness had been to the mountain top, saw The Promised Land and returned with The Ten Tablets – corruption on its way out to pasture.
Well, so much for messiahs and Gideons, as one caller to a radio talk show crowned Holness a day after the 2016 elections. His administration has not only been synonymous with scandals but has turned into a real-life Olivia Pope and Fitzgerald Grant III “Scandal” television take off with sex tape and a sex scandal that would make the British Profumo affair curl its very British conservative hair.
But when Holness himself carries a cloud of suspicion over his head about the construction of a multi-million dollar mansion that he was prepared to take an independent journalist to court to prevent the rebroadcasting of a damning programme that asked some even more damning questions, his administration wouldn’t be anything but mired in slime. Isn’t that usually what happens when a leader is compromised?
Speculations, Pandemic and Spoilers
One story is that Holness is capitalizing on the continued applause from his admirers for his “management” of the pandemic, albeit that there was much mishandling of the situation that has now led to this increase in cases.
Another line is that the latest scandal involving the PR king, Minister of Health, Christopher Tufton in a literal sweetheart deal and an alleged sex tape that I am positive has outstripped Kim Kardashian’s introductory sex tape in views in social media demands drastic actions.
The embattled Minister was to appear before a bipartisan parliamentary committee to answer questions about his involvement with a female principal from Market Me, a consulting business (the alleged female co-star in the sex tape with a torso of a man alleged to be Tufton) and multi-million dollar unsolicited contracts involving COVID public service campaign granted to said MM on the very day Parliament was dissolved.
However, there’s a theory that Parliament was hastily prorogued and elections called to lift Daniel out of the lion’s den, at least so that Holness can rally his troops. Perhaps, Tufton will lose his seat and the scandal will die with him? Can a former Member appear before the House? Or is it that they are banking on the historical short memory of Jamaicans? All this remember is conjecture but none-the-less makes for super soap opera. And now last time on The Young and the Restless.
Media, Fixed Election Date And Unfulfilled First Hundred Days Promise
What’s overlooked in all of this is the fluidity that the Westminster representative democracy model gives the ruling party to manipulate the electoral process.
Ironically, fast-tracking the process to a fixed election date was one of the pillars of Holness’s pre and post-election promises:
“Within our first 100 days of government, we will start the legislative process to fix the date for general elections in Jamaica,” he said.
Holness said having a fixed election date would bring greater certainty to the political process:
“And by the way, the date will be a date after the budget and not before,” he pointed out. “So no government will be able to come and make false promises and hide the truth and tell you half-truths and trick you into voting for them, and then when them win, them throw on poison pon yuh”.
Fast forward to 2020 and a snap election! So, I wonder what “poison” does he have to throw pon wi? What does he know that he is not letting on? More importantly, where is the media in all this? Predictably silent!
Media in the capitalist state and in the developing quasi capitalist state is and always was an agent of the capitalist state machinery —- functionaries of the ruling and political class. Except for ideological separation of the parties in the 1970s, Jamaica media remains aligned with the conservative JLP —- something they would be the last to admit but there for the honest to see.
Now this is not me stumping for the PNP. There is no ideological difference or merit between the two parties…they are two sides of the same coin. But the response of the media in holding this administration to account has been notably different from the days when their criticism of the PNP reached great heights. The PNP could not have made such a commitment, break it, exploit the system and the media not write that transgression across the sky and make it a big deal.
Now, Holness gets to rule his plantation without the media doing their job of protecting the interests of Jamaicans. Mainstream media in today’s Jamaica globally is a business competing for market share, susceptible to corporate and political machinations. Media practitioners toe the line, self-censor, practice “soundness” as they seek to land some position within the winning political administration. There were many a rabid critic of the previous administration who received “gratuity” from Holness —- his current Press Secretary is one of the most ominous. Nationwide Radio, an “independent” media station, Jamaica’s FOX Television, is from whence the individual comes.
In the middle of the alarming daily exponential increases in Covid cases and a virus that needs to be handled with delicacy, Jamaicans will go to the polls defying the laws of mandatory social distancing as per the World Health Organization. Consider this! In what is now probably showing up as ground zero, the parish with the most cases has been put under curfew from 7 PM to 5 AM until September 02…elections are on September 03! Holness gambles with the safety of the nation and the body politic is allowing him to.
This is one of the clearest arguments for Jamaica to rid itself of Westminster. Already it promotes parliamentary dictatorship – in most cases, all it needs to get legislation passed is a simple majority. The first past the post rule can give the winner executive power on a razor-thin “majority” – the 2016 elections were decided on ONE vote! The fluidity of election date fixing gives a party dictatorship over the fixing of elections and grants them the right to exploit a political climate that’s advantageous to them. Perhaps, in and of itself there is nothing wrong with that – politics whether we care to admit is foremost a business. It becomes problematic though when politicians continue to manipulate the system to serve party interests at the expense of the people.
There is merit in a fixed date. In Holness’s own words “having a fixed election date would bring greater certainty to the political process”. The election date should be fixed so that again in Holness’s words:
“…no government will be able to come and make false promises and hide the truth and tell you half-truths and trick you into voting for them, and then when them win, them throw on poison pon yuh”.
Politics is just a business though isn’t it, a stage and politicians are the greatest performers aren’t they?