Wed | Apr 24, 2024

Running in vain

Limited political influence dims chances for independents; youth more willing to support them

Published:Wednesday | February 21, 2024 | 12:14 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Pollster Don Anderson.
Pollster Don Anderson.
Political commentator and Western Mirror publisher Lloyd B. Smith.
Political commentator and Western Mirror publisher Lloyd B. Smith.
1
2

The 36 independent candidates vying for office in the local government elections have been labelled as “fodder” in the election process by political commentator Lloyd B. Smith, who asserts that their campaigns will be fruitless. His comment comes...

The 36 independent candidates vying for office in the local government elections have been labelled as “fodder” in the election process by political commentator Lloyd B. Smith, who asserts that their campaigns will be fruitless.

His comment comes against the backdrop of the latest RJRGLEANER Communications Group-commissioned Don Anderson polls in which nearly half of the respondents said they would not consider voting for an independent candidate if any is running in their divisions.

The polls revealed that 45 per cent of those eligible to vote next Monday would not consider casting ballots for independent candidates, while 28 per cent indicated that they would do so. A further 27 per cent of respondents were unsure.

A breakdown showed that young people, ages 34 and under, would be most willing to vote for an independent candidate at 74 per cent. The greatest resistance to voting for an independent candidate was among the 55-64 age group, where more than 60 per cent said they would not consider it.

While noting that it was “encouraging” to see so many Jamaicans deciding to enter representational politics unattached to a political party, Smith said it was unlikely that any of them would be victorious as, historically, independent candidates have not done well in either the local or parliamentary elections.

“The reality is that Jamaica's political culture is still entrenched in the two-party system and as we now have it – the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and the PNP (People's National Party). What is more is that given the fact that this local government election is being treated as a general election, where the local issues are not being sufficiently aired and discussed and focused on, then the candidates at that level will be sidelined,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

“It's a pity 'cause I do believe some amount of independence in the political system would do us some good,” added Smith, a publisher and former parliamentarian.

POWERLESS

But describing independent candidates as “more of a distraction than anything else”, veteran pollster Anderson told The Gleaner that the electorate often views such individuals as powerless, a similar perspective he said they share of independent parties.

“An independent candidate is even further in the back seat because an independent candidate doesn't really have a major party to stand with and, from that perspective, may not be seen to be somebody who you want to give your vote to win a seat, where they will not have much of a say and, probably, will be, in a way, disadvantaged in the process of funding and that type of thing,” he said.

Only 0.7 per cent of the votes cast in the 2016 local government elections were captured by the 24 independent candidates who ran. The candidates received a total of 3,957 votes from the 555,880 cast.

Vernon Williams, who contested the Claremont division in St Ann, received 32.2 per cent of the votes in that contest, representing the highest percentage of votes received by an independent candidate in the 2016 polls. He secured 789 votes. The JLP's Delroy Kelly received 837 votes to win, while the PNP's Lloyd Garick got 817 votes.

Lawton McKenzie, the incumbent in the Grange Hill division in Westmoreland who resigned from the PNP twice within the last six months, is now running as an independent candidate. He has dismissed the findings of the poll.

According to McKenzie, his more than two decades as councillor in the division and his track record of performance, which he said includes installing street- lights, bringing water to residents, and improving roads in the communities, will trigger an unprecedented shift in his favour.

“That's why I am in it, and I am sticking to the ball game and the ball game is to deal with my achievements,” he said. “I have been working like how Jehovah's Witnesses work. I have 100-and-odd workers who have promised me faithfully that they are gonna work for me, and if ... [they] bring in 10 each, it's 1,500 [votes]. And 1,500 would give me a margin of over 600,” he said.

Another former PNP councillor running as an independent candidate, Uphel Purcell, said that while he is not surprised by the poll findings, he believes the electorate is changing.

“I think what is gradually happening in Jamaica is that the Jamaican people are gradually recognising that councillors and members of parliament are not necessarily too much about party; it is more of the individual who is most capable of understanding what the needs of the people are, and [have] the guts to get out there and work towards achieving goals for the people that they represent,” said Purcell, who is seeking to retain his seat in the York Town division in Clarendon.

The polls, which were conducted between February 2 and 7, have a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level.

sashana.small@gleanerjm.com