Not win-win, but win-loss: Some thoughts on St. Mary SE By-Election

JLP won and PNP lost support, in St. Mary SE, with the total vote increasing substantially, as many new voters were on the voting roll. The tiny margin for PNP from the 2016 general election turned into a near-1000 vote victory for JLP, meaning the approval gap between the parties widened massively in this seat.

JLP is no longer the party of Seaga, and is molding itself clearly in another image—maybe, it’s too early to say it’s the party of Holness, but he is developing a face that is markedly different. Part of that difference relates to how the leader and his party embrace communications, especially through social media, in a way that its main rival is still struggling to match. It’s a face that is in stark contrast to the (outdated and somewhat self-denying) stance taken by PNP—that party has badly abandoned its socialist roots–in terms of its being a voice of the people–a trend that was clearly evident by some of the arrogant disregard show for public opinion and governance of public money during several of its past tenures in government. (That’s beside the fact that the party presided well over an IMF program; it showed scant regard for good financial governance in many other areas.)

PNP often talked about ‘joined-up government’, yet displayed some of the most disorganized control of public affairs during the last administration. But, talk is cheap! Wasting money, isn’t. That’s maybe a highbrow observation, but more ‘low brow’ would be the fact that PNP didn’t really empathize that despite the macroeconomic success of the IMF program, there were many microeconomic disasters going on in people’s lives. The recently released 2015 poverty statistics make that clearer. There was much pain for the wider economic gain. That’s not uncommon, but little acknowledgement of it is really damaging, politically. It’s not enough for a political leader to say how she feels inflation, when most of life’s expenses are covered by the State. The referendum on PNP was clear from the 2016 general election, reinforced by recent local elections, and then stamped again in St. Mary. That is more significant, given the relatively high turnout (over 50%), in a seat where votes clearly mattered. (The ‘goings on’ in the garrison seats in St. Andrew tell us little about wider political sentiments, especially with the low voter turnout to ‘rubber stamp’ PNP candidates. One problem with just listening to the faithful is that you hear the song that you are playing yourself 🙂 )

JLP sensed this seething discontent (and it was not deeply-hidden) going into the 2016 election and fed on it with the promise of tax breaks. Despite its many arithmetic flaws, that promise of giveaways and easing of financial burdens resonated loudly.

PNP kept shooting itself in its own foot in St. Mary–most glaringly with its selection of a candidate whose credentials seemed to have been vetted by an adolescent intern, more intent on posting on Snapchat than checking for the potential damage that lay in the person’s resume. But, it also did its own bad pedicures with the way it handled candidate selections in the two St. Andrew by-election seats, the feud of one still simmering between Brown-Burke and Smith-Facey well into By-Election Day.

As an Opposition, the current PNP shows itself offering little of substance and with few resources to back any promises is in serious danger of making itself worse that irrelevant.

Put differently, a party with a one-seat majority in Parliament acted as if it had won a complete landslide. That’s because the Opposition has been toothless in words and deeds.