JAMAICA’S electorate faces a difficult choice this Thursday – but for all the wrong reasons.
The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) which, contrary to its name, is conservative, currently hold an insurmountable 19-point over the social democratic People’s National Party (PNP).
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is enjoying huge popularity amongst younger Jamaicans thanks to the JLP’s slick public relations operation and, until the pandemic struck, a reasonably seamless economic recovery programme.
His own personal popularity is ahead of his party’s, mainly thanks to his hands-on approach, according to Jamaican public-affairs commentator Patrick Bailey.
But electoral popularity for the PNP has been an issue for the past decade.
The PNP – traditionally a socialist party that the JLP accused of being linked to the Soviets – was removed from power in 2016 after adhering to austerity policies that cut government spending on already inadequate social safety programmes.
Dr Peter Phillips, the leader of the PNP, has been bullish in embracing a democratic socialist agenda – but like Labour and the Iraq war, the PNP’s embrace of austerity may live long in the minds of Jamaica’s voters, especially when Mr Holness has continued to propagate his message of mass job creation.
It means, according to Christophe Simpson, Chairman of Jamaica LANDS, a far-left political movement, that Jamaicans face an uninspiring choice at the ballot box.
He told Redaction Politics: “The similarities between the two parties are with domestic policy; they do not have significantly different analyses on any matter or significantly different approaches to any problem.
“On foreign policy, the PNP has positions which we find more favourable than the JLP, but this is not enough for us to tell people that they should vote for the PNP when many associate the PNP with rigid austerity measures.”
As such, LANDS is not endorsing either party, with voter turnout in the movement likely to be low. Like with the US election, it’s simply a case of reluctantly voting for the lesser evil.
“Some persons in the movement will be voting, and others won’t. Among both voters and non-voters, some believe the PNP is the lesser evil, some are neutral, and some prefer the personalities in the JLP,” he said.
“People should vote for whichever candidates in their respective constituencies will answer to them the most.
“Even if we identified a party as the lesser evil, it should have a high-quality candidate in each constituency if it wants to win.”
The parties are united on some major national issues – neither will cease the call for Britain to pay reparations for the slave trade.
Calls in 2015 under the Simpson-Miller government were repeated three years later by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, who said: “We must pursue reparations. The great wrong must be set right.
“To those who would say slavery was a long time ago, and we should simply move on, I point them to the debilitating impact of slavery even today. More than 300 years of oppression and brutality has left lasting scars.”
Mr Simpson commented: “The burden of ensuring reparations should be on the British, not on our government. Our government continues to work with other governments in the region to pursue reparations, regardless of which party is in power.”
Portia Simpson-Miller’s term in government from 2012-2016 was a far cry from Michael Manley’s rule during the 1970s.
Mr Manley’s first term, from 1972-1980, saw some of the nation’s most radical left-wing reforms which increased the standard of living of both rural and urban working-class Jamaicans.
Despite being plagued by destabilisation tactics and US pressure, the PNP could rely on the Soviet Union for political support.
This was not the case during Manley’s second term from 1989-1992, where, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Jamaica instead had to rely on International Monetary Fund loas and foreign private investment.
It is an uphill battle for political parties to even organise, let alone win seats, Mr Simpson said, explaining LANDS’ delay in any electoral foray.
“For LANDS to organise an electoral force, we would need to start territorial organising,” he said.
“Jamaica’s violent political history makes this difficult. The two main parties also have the benefit of being funded by the private sector.”
The socialist dream in Jamaica appeared to be over – and, despite LANDS’ growth, doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon.
Jamaica LANDS’ full positions on the upcoming election can be found here.
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