At the close of play on Thursday, February 25, 2016, the Electoral Commission in their preliminary count proclaimed that the Jamaica Labour Party had won 33 seats and the People’s National Party won 30 seats. As the recount was undertaken, there was a reversal in the constituency of St. Mary South Eastern. The initial count gave the JLP candidate, Dr. Dunn 7,311 votes and the PNP candidate, Dr. Green, obtained 7,184 votes. In the correction, the PNP candidate has won presumably, by the narrowest of margins - 9 votes. Obviously, this will require a Magistrate’s recount.
The results of the election, if the present count stands, are 32-31 in the JLP’s favor. That is the narrowest victory in the history of Jamaican politics and will make Andrew Holness’ life as Prime Minister exceedingly precarious. A death of a Member of Parliament or if a disgruntled member decides to cross the aisle, his government would fail. Democracy requires a level of stability. With such a narrow margin, Holness will invariably have to call early elections.
The results shocked the forecasters and the pollsters. Both Bill Johnson of the Gleaner and Don Anderson of the Observer surmised that the PNP were ahead by 4 percentage points. Professors Gayle and Charles of the University of the West Indies forecast a PNP victory. But the people who went to the polls have given the JLP a slim majority. Only 47.7 percent of eligible voters chose to participate in the democratic process.
In the 2011 election, the PNP had won 42 seats to the JLP 21 seats. Even though this was a sizeable margin of seats, so many of the seats won by the PNP were won by the slimmest of margins. The presumption was that if the marginal seats were split, the PNP would come away with a majority. Instead, the JLP won almost every marginal seat.
What does this election tell us about the Jamaican electorate and Party politics in Jamaica? The pattern of two terms and you are out lasted from 1944 to 1989. The PNP won the election of 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2002 – four electoral victories in a row. Such a string of victories established that the PNP had become the dominant Party. That had much to do with the rejection of Seaga’s leadership of the JLP. The JLP was not returned to power until Mr. Seaga was forced out and a new leader, Bruce Golding, was installed.
Golding only lasted one term and the PNP returned to power in 2011 and the Portia Simpson Miller administration was turned out of office after one term. The question then is have we entered a new era in which a Party is given one term? Has the electorate become so disillusioned with Party politics that they can only stomach one term?
The country has become less tribal and that appears to be the case of the new voters. The JLP attributed their modicum victory to the strategy of concentrating on younger voters in the swing states. The JLP aimed their messaging at people’s needs for jobs, education, healthcare, etc. That is basic but what the JLP contends is that they tried to reach younger voters through social media and I Phone apps.
The constituency results were somewhat surprising. The Labour Party swept St. James. The only surviving PNP incumbent in the western parish, Mr. Kellier, Minister of Agriculture in the Portia Simpson Miller administration is facing a recount as the preliminary count indicated that he had won his seat by 72 votes.
The election in Western St. Thomas which has James Robertson of the JLP ahead of Marsha Marie Francis is being recounted by the Electoral Commission. The other problematical seat is in St. Catherine North Eastern where the preliminary count proclaimed the JLP candidate, Leslie Campbell winning with 5,887 votes to the PNP’s Phyllis Mitchell 5,766, a margin of 121 votes. Those recounts have ratified the number of 32 seats for the JLP, 31 for the PNP.
Surprisingly, although the election is close, some of the marginal or swing constituencies were won convincingly. In St. Andrew East Rural, Juliet Holness (JLP) amassed 10,172 votes to Imani Duncan Price (PNP) to 9,482, a margin of 690 votes. In St. Andrew West Rural, Juliet Cuthbert defeated the PNP incumbent, Paul Buchannan by 1,225 votes. The Olympian may have made a marginal seat a safe seat for the Jamaica Labour Party for the forthcoming elections.
What does the future hold for Portia Simpson Miller? At this juncture, it is in the best interest of the PNP for her to step down from the presidency of the PNP even if she chooses to continue to be a Member of Parliament representing St. Andrew South Western. At the mass rally at Half-Way-Tree, Portia Simpson Miller bellowed that MIA does not mean Portia is Missing in Action. It means Mamma P in Action. But a Prime Minister cannot ‘duck’ the media. A Prime Minister has to hold press conferences. A Prime Minister has to have the courage to debate and to articulate the vision of the Party. Ms. Simpson Miller simply does not have the intellectual capabilities to lead a modern Party. A developing country needs leaders who are effective communicators. That certainly was lacking in the PNP’s term, 2011-2016.
Mr. Holness is not a great communicator but he has always been willing to face the music. In recent months polls have shown that the Jamaican people have more confidence in Andrew Holness as a Party Leader and Prime Minister than Portia Simpson Miller.
Holness’ majority of one will force another general election. The PNP would be better served by electing a new generation of leaders.
*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.