Why only hard­core sup­port­ers turn out for lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - ob­serve­mark@gmail.com.

THE YEAR 1980 was as far from nor­mal as a snail was not Usain Bolt. Po­lit­i­cally and so­cially, the times were tense, and the air was filled with much fear, un­cer­tain­ties, and peo­ple pre­ferred to re­main in­doors af­ter work­ing hours.

From July on­wards, the guns be­gan to bark in Span­ish Town, the city’s east and western end and es­pe­cially in Olympic Gar­dens. It was the worst of time in our pol­i­tics, and we would like to be­lieve that we will never again re­turn to those close ties be­tween pol­i­tics and the gun cul­ture.

In Oc­to­ber of that 1980, the JLP swept to power in the big­gest one-sided vic­tory ever seen in the his­tory of this coun­try with a pop­u­lar vote of 59% to the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party’s (PNP) 41%. In that process, the Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) cap­tured 51 of the 60 seats then avail­able.

In the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions the fol­low­ing year, the JLP again cleaned up, get­ting 63% of the pop­u­lar vote and 262 of the 275 di­vi­sions is­land­wide.

Af­ter that, two big shocks to the sys­tem took place. The PNP’s Michael Man­ley de­cided on a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple not to con­test the snap 1983 elec­tions called by Ed­ward Seaga, then prime min­is­ter. It was Man­ley’s con­tention that the vot­ers’ list was not up­dated, and there had been prior agree­ment with Seaga that a gen­eral elec­tion would only be called on an up­dated list.

Buoyed by the shoring up of his pop­u­lar­ity in Stone Polls af­ter his in­volve­ment in the Amer­i­can in­va­sion of Gre­nada in 1983, Seaga called the elec­tion and won all 60 seats be­cause the PNP did not par­tic­i­pate. With all of those elec­toral neg­a­tives work­ing against it, the PNP de­cided to par­tic­i­pate in the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions and cre­ated his­tory when it won by get­ting 56% of the pop­u­lar vote and 128 of the 187 di­vi­sions.


In the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions to be con­tested on Novem­ber 28, the PNP is hop­ing that it can do what it did in June 1986 and what the JLP did in June 2003 when the JLP as an op­po­si­tion party won those lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions.

The thing is, in 2003 there had been a trend which was mov­ing against the PNP since the gen­eral elec­tions of De­cem­ber 2002 and that ended up in the win, how­ever nar­row for the JLP in Septem­ber of 2007.

At least one poll­ster now has his find­ings on what is likely to hap­pen on Novem­ber 28. An­other poll­ster is in the field as I write. Com­ing af­ter the ma­jor polls jit­ters in Ja­maica in Fe­bru­ary, the Brexit sur­prise and the Trump stun­ner, I would be very scared at this time to be a poll­ster.

Hope­fully, in those find­ings will be an­swers to some press­ing ques­tions: Do Ja­maican vot­ers care much about lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions af­ter gen­eral elec­tions? That’s an easy an­swer. No! Only hard­core sup­port­ers turn out, and worse, the politi­cians from both sides of the aisle cater their mes­sages only to this small chunk of their diehard sup­port­ers.

At present, it seems that garbage col­lec­tion is be­ing used as raw, un­treated pol­i­tics in the up­com­ing elec­tions. We are told that NSWMA’s bud­get for garbage clear­ance is­land­wide is $4.5 to $5.0 bil­lion, yet in the lat­est num­bers, only $2.8 bil­lion was bud­geted.

This goes be­yond PNP and JLP and is sound rea­son as to why the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion be­lieves the whole lo­cal gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery is bro­ken to bits. At one level, there is a ma­jor dis­con­nect be­tween Min­is­ter of Health Chris Tufton’s fight on the Zika V front, while NSWMA is forced to play mu­si­cal chairs with garbage col­lec­tion.

In the June 2003 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, the turnout was 41%. In the De­cem­ber 2007 elec­tions, it was 38%. In March 2012 it was 35%. See a trend?


Out­side of the quirks in lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion wins, con­ven­tional wis­dom would dic­tate that the JLP is likely to win on Novem­ber 28. With an­other low turnout ex­pected, the ques­tion is, will those hard­core party vot­ers be mak­ing judg­ment based on more than just garbage col­lec­tion, mos­qui­toes and clogged up gul­lies?

The big­gest con­cern at this time is the wave of vi­cious crim­i­nal­ity tak­ing place all over the is­land, es­pe­cially in parishes that were nor­mally havens of peace and tran­quil­ity, like Port­land.

If the judg­ment runs out­side of just prox­i­mate com­mu­nity mat­ters, the JLP may find it­self in a spot of bother. But if the JLP can pro­vide the car­ni­val, then let the peo­ple en­joy it. But take noth­ing for granted, Prime Min­is­ter Hol­ness.

Sen­a­tor Chuck Schumer (cen­ter), ac­com­pa­nied by Sen­a­tor Deb­bie Stabenow (se­cond right), leaves a Se­nate Demo­cratic cau­cus or­gan­is­ing meet­ing on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton yes­ter­day, af­ter Schumer was elected mi­nor­ity leader for the up­com­ing 115th Con­gress.

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