Fri | Apr 19, 2024

Mark Wignall | No electoral blowout seen … yet

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2024 | 12:11 AM
Party leader and member of parliament Andrew Holness rings the bell as he walks along Waltham Park Road with JLP candidate for St. Andrew West Central Seivwright Gardens Division, Delroy Williams on nomination day.
Party leader and member of parliament Andrew Holness rings the bell as he walks along Waltham Park Road with JLP candidate for St. Andrew West Central Seivwright Gardens Division, Delroy Williams on nomination day.

If you have been following Andrew Holness from he was a political neophyte in 2011 to the super-confident approach he allows to define himself in 2024, you are likely to fit into one of the following slots.

You may love him, fiercely dislike him, or, you are lukewarm on him like microwave pizza the next morning. Whatever it is, you are convinced that you know him. And that creates a quietly unsaid problem facing his main rival in the local government elections, Mark Golding, president of the People’s National Party (PNP).

Increasingly it is being driven home to large numbers of Jamaicans that these local government elections are being fought on national issues and a comparison of the perceived quality of the leaders of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the PNP. Those who may be thinking that they would like to love Mr. Golding a wee bit more are not so sure what it is about him that they should love.

They are saying that, personally, he is a good and decent human being and, unlike PM Holness, he submitted his Integrity Commission filings without delay or what could be perceived as a hint of rancour. Others may be saying that, politically, he is still formless dough in the back of the bakery that hasn’t quite made it to being a freshly baked bread, proudly displayed for readiness and freshness at the front of the shop.

Before the publication of the January-February Nationwide/Bluedot polls, both the JLP and the PNP were claiming that internal polls they privately commissioned were showing their party ahead. But we are familiar with those political games. A large sample size of over 1,800 was chosen for the Bluedot survey specifically to determine where important groupings of age, sex, parish etc. fell on the various items polled.

A good reason to dismiss the presence of these ‘internal’ polls is cost. Whether they are funded by heavy-pocket businessmen with political sympathies to the party, or from party coffers, a two-page questionnaire of, say, 1,500 respondents done nationally could cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Many of the metrics discussed by the Nationwide/Bluedot personnel generally favour the JLP but, some of the trends are seeing the PNP trying its best to chase down the JLP, catch it and win on February 26.

COAXING OUT THE VOTE

Many aspects of voting are emotional. A voter may like one policy, or a few, but it is when he finds himself comfortable with some and unbothered by too many negatives, he will vote. In this category will be those who believe that Holness deserves another chance and those who believe that Golding deserves a chance.

It seems to me that the many electoral negatives for the JLP which showed up in the September 2023 polls are somewhat less now, but I don’t believe the political gurus in the JLP are quite comfortable with the hum of the party machinery at this time. But, I think there is a silver lining.

On Valentine’s Day, I was on the road for about three hours. Each place I visited, I asked the people there (mainly men over 55) ‘which party do you believe will win on February 26?’ I prefaced the question by telling them that I was not interested in whichever party they supported.

The settings were quite informal but there was not a single person who said the PNP will win. Should I read anything into that? Yes, I believe.

It’s politically fashionable for the PNP and its leader to tout the tension in the examination centre and the IMF invigilation from Portia in 2011 to Peter Phillips while reminding the likely voters that, without that baton-changing, Holness’ claim of fiscal prudence and infrastructural positives would be an empty and incomplete boast.

That baton-changing conveniently leaves out the fact that Holness has the power of NOW. The timing favours him. He has the baton NOW and, in general, a significant number of Jamaicans are seeing Dr. Nigel Clarke as a finance minister standout and invaluable team member like few before him.

It is quite valid for us to ask if we see a difference ‘around us’ as we travel this country. I see a difference in visible upgrades. But I also see negatives in those very upgrades. The social scientists know that, until huge numbers of the various social groupings in Jamaica see significant wealth generation, many in the so-called lower middle class will find that gentrification will price them out of the housing market and decrease their spending power in funding the household.

YOKED TO THE SAME MODEL

It’s a little bit simplistic to state that the JLP has always suffered from that lag time between macroeconomic growth and development and its real effect at the base. But it’s unfair to use the history of the 1960s, 1980s and the present times. The social and political dimensions were quite different.

If we accept that there is no wiggle room for the PNP to go off on a ideological jaunt when just about all that is available for both parties is a little less or more of unrestrained capitalism. So we can expect that both parties will want to claim that its brand of development exists within the limits of allowing the market to find its sweet spot. That is, capitalism with a heart. Surely an oxymoron.

Who is more trusted to lead this country in these difficult times? Do the people say ‘give me the more animated Holness whose boils and scars I know’? Or are they prepared to invest hope and grab for Golding?

Those questions will be adjudicated on February 26 on what certainly will be a broad leadership contest.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.