#COVID19Chronicles-75: June 28, 2020: Election smoke signals seen over the hills, but feet keep getting put in mouths

This is just a brief skip across the fields, like a lamb on a Spring day.

Jamaica must hold its next general elections by early-2021; our system gives the choice of date to the government of the day. Whatever the perceived pros and cons of fixed election dates, I’m sure that in COVID19-ridden life the choice of when to put your political neck on the block is one that many would prefer to be their choice than for it to be fixed. (I’m sure that many with fixed-date systems will be combing through the rules to see if they can wiggle out of holding elections while people are locked down and infections and deaths may still be spiralling. With that said, it’s fascinating to see what’s going on the USA with primary election voting—see primary and caucuses map.

One would be naive to not sense more election arithmetic coming into play in recent weeks. Most recently, Cabinet shuffling makes little sense in any other optic, even with the wrinkly events this week of an MP being elevated to the Cabinet in a clear move to ‘punish’ a current Cabinet member who was in charge of land and environment who didn’t see anything wrong with trying to lease land adjacent to protected areas in the Blue Mountains. (To recap: Daryl Vaz tried to obtain a 25-year lease that would have allowed him to construct a private cabin on protected lands within the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site. The cabin was earmarked for use in the lucrative Airbnb sector. The cost of the lease was $120,000 per annum.) While some have called for stronger action for this seeming lack of judgement, at least, it’s well understood that Mr. Vaz, now just handling the housing and water portfolios, is a major fund raiser and whose further alienation would be another shot in a bleeding foot.

This new Cabinet member a few days later then announced that he wont be seeking re-election. As my wife would say, “Who does that?” The man is in one of the ‘battleground’ seats, NE St Catherine, where the winning margin was a mere 122 votes. To my little pea brain, it’s not really obvious how all of that helps solidify the JLP position in a seat with one of the flimsiest majorities. A nice piece today in The Sunday Gleaner by Colin Campbell illustrates this and other such seats held by both sides, where they won by fewer than 700 votes.

Source: The Sunday Gleaner

The elevation in the preceding week of two of the oldest members of the ruling party from ‘ministers without portfolio’ to full Cabinet ministers in charge of ministries only makes real sense with an eye on elections (Karl Samuda-78; Mike Henry-85). These are seasoned politicians in safe seats, who are still capable of running ministries, and are backed by much younger deputies, but you’d have to call me crazy if these were put forward as moves with eyes to a longer future than at best a few months.

Now, I’m not in the election date forecasting business, and those who see August in the frame are basing that bet on the fact that the states of public emergency (SOE) will expire on July 25, and the PM has said he’d not hold elections while SOEs were still in place.

However, I am keeping an eye on the actions of politicians with a certain keenness. 

So, here is some musing in a Twitter thread this morning:

It’s easier to read the thread here:

As I often stress, not a political analyst, just a keen observer of human behaviour. If I was leader of a government heading into a general election, I’d be stressing certain things to my team, esp my Cabinet. 1. Do not make mistakes that will alienate large groups of people.

Behaviour that casts suspicion on our concerns 4ordinary people must be avoided, so no shady land or property deals, no comments that will upset women & show that we/men don’t care. 2. Give off warm concern for the plight of ordinary Jamaicans. 3. Realise COVID lock down strains.

4. Realise that many Jamaicans are financially under the cosh, more so as remittance flows stalled & not every one can get CARE support. 5. Feel for those with children; home schooling ahead of key exams like PEP put many families near emotional breaking points.

6. Resolve some outstanding potential embarrassments (eg PetroJam, CMU). 7. Keep close eyes on problems ordinary people face with utilities (JPS billing & frequent outages, Flow/Digicel service quality, NWC general supply problems). 8. Tout success of road programme.

9. Understand that most Jamaicans rely on taxis & buses so anything that puts access to those at risk will be problems. 10. Accept that few will think a great job been done curtailing major & violent crimes & it’s an Achilles heel.

It’s with that perspective that I want to touch on what happened in recent days with the minister of justice, Delroy Chuck. After, the ‘Holywell debacle’ why would another experienced Cabinet foot be put into the mouth?

His demeanour and comments about sexual harassment were embarrassing to many; Jamaicans see this as almost solely a matter that affects women, but it’s a problem of different magnitude for men and children.

If you don’t understand that latter point, read this report in today’s papers.

His disrespect for the #MeToo movement is the sort of thing that sends shivers down the spine of many females and those who have females close to them, like parents. I’m not going to parse his final apology, which came after a couple of less than well-worded attempts:

However, joviality does mean lack of empathy; that’s the essence of humour—it’s at someone’s expense.

The damage was already done. In a series of somewhat muddled apologies for initially supporting the minister (apparently because she thought criticisms of him related to something that had happened to her due to an appearance earlier in the week on ‘TVJ All Angles’, the Attorney General made her view known that the minister’s approach was “unfortunate and wrong”:

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That’s not a trivial condemnation, coming from his fellow Cabinet colleague who is the government’s legal advisor. What we have yet to hear is whether the PM wants to dissociate himself and his government from the minister’s position.

I do not think a ‘reasonable’ time is what should be the focus in trying to address how any person deals with personal trauma: it’s a dangerous simplification to think that everyone’s timeline for dealing with personal distress can be neatly carved. As the report on rapes of minors should also makes clear, we have a significant body of victims who cannot reasonably be expected to address such distress in a short period of time (imagine a child of 2 years old who can barely speak in sentences being a victim and being given to his/her 3rd birthday to be able to articulate the wrong). 

PNP showed in 2016 that it’s quite easy to throw away a winning electoral hand by misplaying cards and not focusing on the main elements of the game (the story should have been about the economic turn around, but instead it became a story about Mr. Holness’s house). So, because nothing is certain, it’s quite possible for JLP to squander what looks like a winning position in similar fashion because politicians are just careless and carefree in their disregard for who the electorate really are—ordinary people looking to live a decent life and see a better future for themselves and their families. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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