The Jamaican electorate got it right again. After taking everything into account – government performance, opposition promises, media reports, competing advertisements, leader debates – we voters came up with a result which made almost everyone happy. Comrades were glad to see their party get home on top, if only just. Labourites were pleased at avoiding humiliation for the first time in 4 elections. And non-partisans were delighted to get our balanced parliament since independence.


Jamaica could not have asked for a better outcome. The 35-25 election night result was close enough to make it a real contest but not so close so as to arouse ‘dem tief we’ cries. And with re-counts we might get a 34-26 or even 33-27 final tally. Competition is the mother of excellence, and nothing could be healthier for this nation’s governance than a “you slip and you slide” parliament.


The shell shocked faces of PNP leaders at their party victory celebration told the story. Gone was the smug self-importance of unchallenged power. Instead we saw slightly dazed eyes which have felt the fear of God and know that any laziness or arrogance in this coming term will be ruthlessly punished in the next vote.


The temporary scent of blood when a seat majority seemed possible must have bolstered JLP confidence. For it was the first time in two decades Labourites have felt even a glimmer of hope on election night. They will certainly go into the next battle feeling victory is within their grasp.


Whether God was sleeping or not, the rain likely helped the PNP. For a low voter turnout usually favours incumbents and the comrades are acknowledged to have a stronger ‘get the vote out’ machinery. Had October 16 been a normal sunny Jamaican day we might have seen a slight JLP win instead of a small PNP majority. But frankly I prefer to have the more currently organized party running the country.


Labourites will be thinking ‘couldashouldawoulda’, but it was their election to lose and they did. The PNP defended its rather patchy record quite well, outadvertising its opponent in terms of both quality and quantity. The comrade strategy was simple – highlight its few ‘solid’ achievements and focus on the negative aspects of a demonstrably unpopular opposition leader. Morally questionable perhaps, but they say all’s fair in politics and war and American elections regularly feature much worse ‘character assassinations’.


Indeed a proper JLP campaign would have washed away nearly all the PNP’s anti-Seaga mud-slinging. For while he may not be the warmest of persons, the record shows the man has dedicated virtually his entire life to serving his country and made incalculable national contributions. But apart from a few speeches and personal profiles, little was done to neutralize the comrade attacks.


But then it was Mr. Seaga himself who failed to empower his campaign team as the PNP did with Paul Robertson and Maxine Henry-Wilson. In fact the JLP so often failed to do the logically obvious that some wonder if it really wanted to win the election. Even the crucial Bruce Golding return was clumsily handled, for common sense dictated that he should have been given a seat and official post.


The truth is that grateful as Jamaicans are for Mr. Seaga’s yeoman service, they are on the whole “tired fi see him face”. Had he announced that this was his last election and properly positioned Mr. Golding as his successor, the PNP would have been lucky to get 15 seats. For while there is was and is a strong sentiment for change in the country, most young people see Mr. Seaga as part of the past not the future. In fact contemplating the JLP’s string of defeats I am reminded of a conversation between a travel writer and a Cuban.


“But what is the basic problem?”

“Fidel is an old man that can’t admit he’s made a mistake.”

“But surely it can’t be as simple as that.”

“Oh yes it can.”


But all credit to Mr. Patterson and his team. They may be only mediocre at governing but they are damned good at selling themselves. At the very least they tell people what they want to hear, which naturally makes them feel good. P.J.’s magnanimous victory speech for example was exactly what the nation needed and as good as anything I have heard from a Jamaican politician.


My problem with the PNP is that it simply wastes too much money. Yes I like driving on the Negril to Mobay highway. But the billions spent on it could have built one all the way to Kingston. And the money pumped into ‘election special’ projects will have serious fiscal implications. In fact thoughtful Labourites may be breathing a sigh of relief that it is the PNP and not they who will have to immediately tackle the massive debt overhang their wastage and corruption has created. Hopefully the invigorated opposition will force the new government to keep a tighter balance sheet.


This campaign’s biggest loser was the Stone polls, whose inexplicable fluctuations destroyed their credibility. The Sunday 2% difference poll was clearly the one reflecting reality, and God knows where the 10% PNP win predictions came from. However Don Anderson was vindicated, while the ludicrous Johnson polls were exposed as crude party propaganda.


Danville Walker, Herro Blair, Errol Miller and Francis Forbes can walk tall after helping to produce the most peaceful voting day in memory. But the biggest winner was Bruce Golding. For it is largely his courageous decision to rejoin the JLP that created our now healthy political situation. Without him Labour would have struggled to get 20 seats. And his return not only gave us a balanced parliament, it forced the JLP to espouse constitutional reform and put it on the PNP front burner. While his message of non-violence has struck a major chord.


History like God moves in mysterious ways. And who could have predicted a month ago that the almost irrelevant forgotten talk show host Bruce Golding would 30 days later be the most respected political leader in the land? changkob@hotmail.com

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