Jamaican elections confirm start of new era

Bert Wilkinson | 9/10/2020, midnight
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, 48, was sworn into office for a second consecutive five-year term this week after his Jamaica ...
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Prime Minister Andrew Holness, 48, was sworn into office for a second consecutive five-year term this week after his Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) wiped out its main opposition rival in a poorly supported general election held late last week.

Holness’ JLP won 49 of the 63 parliamentary seats and in doing so, it not only decimated the top leadership of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) but also retired a generation of older PNP politicians that the electorate has apparently grown tired of seeing over the decades.

Among those heading into retirement are PNP leader and former security minister Peter Phillips, 70, who has already announced his intention to quit his leadership role, if not fade away from active politics, and Peter Bunting, also a former security minister who lost his seat to a vibrant young and telegenic professional named Rhoda Crawford. Bunting had ironically lost a bitter leadership bid to Phillips that party insiders are now in part blaming on weakening the party in the run up to the Sept. 3 poll, called at least six months ahead of the constitutional due date because of fears of a low voter turnout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, figures released by electoral officials indicate that the national voter turnout was an astonishing 37%, credited with being the lowest in Jamaican history and linked by all sides to spiraling infection figures in recent days.

But PNP officials such as Vice President Phillip Paulwell say the party will lick its wounds and bounce back, much as it had done even after a more devastating beating 40 years ago at the hands of the JLP.

“It is quite shocking. I haven’t come to terms as yet with all of the decisions, and yes, you are correct, it is a shocking defeat. But we have been here before. I recall in 1980, the very first time I voted in my life, we had a similar defeat [51-9] and in less than 10 years we were back in power. It is obvious that the people believe that the government has performed. The people believe that the government is deserving of another term. The Jamaica Labor Party out-strategized us. I have to commend them for that,” Paulwell said.

Last week’s elections in Jamaica were just the latest in a busy string of polls being held in the 15-nation Caribbean Community, also among associated members and neighbors like the Dominican Republic this year.

Completed so far are Guyana where the incumbent lost, Suriname which ended similarly, Trinidad where PM Keith Rowley got a second term, St. Kitts where PM Timothy Harris is in a second five-year term, and now Jamaica. Others were held among neighbors in Dutch St. Maarten, the Dominican Republic and Anguilla. Still to come are contests in Belize and St. Vincent by December in what officials are labelling as one of the busiest years for elections on record as regional officials scramble to find teams of electoral observers with the logistical challenges from the pandemic, shuttered borders and grounded airlines.

“I raise this in my acceptance speech. This is not a victory speech. In our last government the narrative of corruption dogged us. I want to make it very clear because there are many persons who will be assuming state authority. This government does not stand for corruption,” Holness said as results rolled in. “Tonight, the victor is the people of Jamaica. I am obviously happy to have won, but I want to assure all of you that I do carry this burden with great consideration of the expectations of not just those who elected us but those who are looking on us for future decisions.”