No great winner from the mu­nic­i­pal vote

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

PRIME MIN­IS­TER An­drew Hol­ness and his Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) are un­der­stand­ably pleased and are mak­ing much that they won the ma­jor­ity of the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils in Mon­day’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. But they have no real cause for self­sat­is­fac­tion, which we are sure Mr Hol­ness well un­der­stands.

In­deed, the PM and other leaders, on all sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, on re­flec­tion, will con­clude that there was no big winner in these elec­tions. Rather, for peo­ple deeply in­vested in the idea of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the pri­mary loser was that ideal, as Ja­maicans con­tinue to demon­strate their dis­con­nec­tion from, and dis­af­fec­tion with, this as­pect of the coun­try’s gov­er­nance.

Based on the re­sults as they now stand, the JLP will have con­trol of eight of the 13 parish mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, against the zero they won when Ja­maicans last voted, in 2012, in lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. The Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) will con­trol four, plus the mu­nic­i­pal re­gion of Port­more in the parish of St Catherine. The re­main­ing parish mu­nic­i­pal­ity of St Thomas was tied, with both par­ties hav­ing five seats each. If it re­mains that way, the mayor’s job, with its cast­ing vote, will likely go to the party that won the pop­u­lar vote.

That the JLP won is not sur­pris­ing. Af­ter all, hav­ing gained a net 11 seats in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions nine months ago, it very nar­rowly won the na­tional gov­ern­ment. It is usu­ally the case that the party that wins the gen­eral elec­tion also wins the mu­nic­i­pal ones, if held rea­son­ably soon af­ter­wards. More­over, the Gov­ern­ment, ex­cept for its faux pas with the elec­tion-eve jobs pro­gramme, has, so far, per­formed cred­itably. In­deed, in that con­text, if the JLP had lost, Mr Hol­ness and his party would have been likely ridiculed by their crit­ics and po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

But here is the rub, and why the JLP, even as it enjoys its vic­tory, has no cause for wild cel­e­bra­tions. First, a mere 29.7 per cent of the elec­torate both­ered to vote, four points lower than in 2012 and more than 23 per­cent­age points fewer than the turnout for last Fe­bru­ary’s elec­tion. It was the low­est voter turnout in re­cent decades, con­tin­u­ing the trend of ap­a­thy Ja­maicans have demon­strated to­wards elec­tions gen­er­ally, and mu­nic­i­pal ones in par­tic­u­lar.

Looked at an­other way, the voter turnout was close to, if not deep into the bone, of the base sup­port of the two par­ties, and in this case, as it usu­ally is, the one in Gov­ern­ment was able to bring more flesh to the bal­lot box than the other with lit­tle pa­tron­age to of­fer.

In that sense, Mr Hol­ness is wrong that the elec­tion was a ref­er­en­dum on the Gov­ern­ment and the out­come a dec­la­ra­tion of peo­ple’s sat­is­fac­tion. Ja­maicans may, in­deed, be sat­is­fied with Mr Hol­ness’ gov­ern­ment, but only his base made any such state­ment on Mon­day.

Nor are these re­sults an in­di­ca­tion to the PNP, as its out­go­ing gen­eral sec­re­tary Paul Burke be­lieves, that “we have se­ri­ous work to do on the ground”. If there is a mes­sage to the PNP — and the JLP — it is of a con­tin­ued re­treat by cit­i­zens from pol­i­tics, and at a faster rate, from lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

That, fun­da­men­tally, is the is­sue that the par­ties have to ad­dress — ro­bustly and sooner, rather than later, if po­lit­i­cal par­ties are to re­tain their rel­e­vance.

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