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Austerity times: bane of people parties

Todays WomanPortia Simpson Miller just lost the Jamaica elections, bringing to two the female leaders who have been beaten in recent months. If there is one thing which was similar about the leadership of Simpson Miller and Persad-Bissessar, it was that they both surrounded themselves with ministers and other personalities who caused negative publicity for their leadership.

They both paid the ultimate price of being perceived as leaders who were not able to command respect and order within their governments, even though they had made gains in their overall management.

Apart from the negative publicity, there were four central reasons that went against the People’s National Party (PNP) and Portia Simpson Miller. Firstly, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) never relented on the PNP after it lost the government in 2012. Holness and his opposition were robust on the matters in the country that affected Jamaicans.  Although the PNP did some work to steady Jamaica’s economy, the gains were made as the result of some harsh measures at the individual level, and this made the government widely unpopular with people.

In other words, although Jamaica was passing the tests of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there were no feelings of betterment and prosperity on the ground. This, to my mind, is the second reason why Simpson Miller did not come away from the poll with an election victory. The mass-based political parties which came into power in the nationalist Caribbean period have always resulted in governments which are not able to overcome austerity periods.

This is because the political parties have to depend on the membership to carry the party, both in terms of voting for it and being a part of the election machinery it takes to win a first-past-the-post election. The membership works for the party to be elected but then the members expect patronage, which is difficult to deliver during times of austerity. The government then becomes unpopular quickly, both within its own ranks as well as in the wider society.

During the election campaign itself, there were two fundamental errors which cost the PNP valuable ground. Jamaicans had grown tired of Simpson Miller’s refusal to speak on matters which they deemed important. During the campaign, one way that this refusal to engage the public manifested itself was in a weak social media campaign from the PNP. This caused further frustration for some critical segments
of the voting public of Jamaica, specifically the critical youth voter.

Related to the disconnect that Jamaicans felt from their immediate past prime minister was her unwillingness to engage in the national debates. Although there were reasons which the PNP tried to advance as to why they had refused the debates, the public was largely left with the impression that they were just sidestepping issues.

Holness’ JLP capitalized on the frustration Jamaicans felt by ensuring his campaign was diametrically opposite to the PNP’s. Andrew Holness was sure to spend time on the platform outlining economic and other issues, which were the discussions Jamaican critical-thinking voters were paying attention to.   

This was the proverbial straw that broke the PNP’s back, and while the party offered supporters invective and fete at their mass rallies, Holness eased past the post by engaging the Jamaicans with the issues they wanted to have ventilated.

If there is any comparison to be made with the 2013 Barbadian scenario it is that Fruendel Stuart was able to better insert his voice into the campaign in such a way that people heard him in time and chose to believe him. Additionally, Stuart’s party was able to effectively utilize social media and traditional media to present information that fed into the concerns and fears which Barbadians had at the time of the election.

The overarching strategy fitted snugly into the historical reality of Caribbean political parties –– that they were never really set up to manage economies through austerity.

It will now be left to be seen how soon Holness returns to the polls. I do not anticipate that the Jamaican public will be as forgiving of Holness as Barbadians have been of Stuart. I would almost call a length of time before which I believe he will have to seek a new mandate; but I stop short because Holness could just get lucky if the opposition is unable to quickly redefine itself. Simpson Miller is now obviously at the end of her leadership career. The PNP will have to choose a successor in under a year and ramp up its pressure on the JLP government.

In spite of her loss, I do believe that Simpson Miller did the right thing in calling the election early. She allowed democracy to work when she realized that Jamaicans were tired of her offerings and her leadership.

A cursory look at the manifesto of the PNP reveals that Simpson Miller chose not to distort the economic issues of her country or make outlandish promises which she knew she could not keep. That restraint may just keep the credibility of her opposition intact in the way the credibility of the Government of Barbados is not.

Where Holness won with the simple promise to put money into people’s pockets, he was believable ironically because Simpson Miller had rolled a feasible economic pitch. At least, Jamaica is passing IMF benchmarks.

In Barbados we continue to free-fall in ratings, added to the overall feeling by Barbadians that our individual fortunes are severely affected by the current Government. Barbadians choose to continue to the ride with our current Government, but Jamaicans are known to be more exacting in these matters. So I shall watch the new prime minister.

While I was spectating Jamaican politics, I was also paying close attention to the fact that where I have never before in my life been fingerprinted as a visitor to America, I now have to be fingerprinted to leave and return to the country of my birth. To phrase it that way is not to be overly dramatic; it is really to ask what has become of the universal human right I have to a citizenship and all the freedoms to live and work in my country of birth.

I have already worked out that if I refuse to be fingerprinted while leaving the island that I will be made to miss my flight and, therefore, under duress I shall have to subject myself. However, for all those asking what will happen to a Barbadian who refuses to be fingerprinted to enter their country of birth, standby; I promise to furnish you with an answer shortly.

How much will it cost the Government of Barbados to keep the millions and millions of gigs of secure space they will need to keep a database bank that large? Have we paid any attention to security though or are we just making it easier for identity thieves to access the information of Barbadians?

More importantly, do you think I will be deported to another Caribbean island or Europe when I refuse to be fingerprinted to come into Barbados?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.
Email mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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