#COVID19Chronicles-100: July 23, 2020-Fix the general election date

I can’t say I’m a fan of fixed election dates, only because I have never been able to vote where that applies, eg in the USA, where I lived, but was not eligible to vote. But, I find the idea of fixed dates for general elections in Jamaica very appealing.

For most of its representational offices, the US has a fixed four-year cycle. So, you can know when your Congressman, Senator and President, at least, will be up for election. You can start planning to re-elect or reject the holder the moment they win the vote for office. That has a lot to commend it, not least, the simple and obvious removal of uncertainty. It can also be condemned for giving a clear timetable for devious and negative ploys by political adversaries.

Jamaica does not have fixed election dates or fixed terms for political representation. In typical fashion, though, Jamaica has been ‘talking about it’ for years.

I’m often critical of politicians for the simple reason that they tend not to keep their promises. I like consistency, and as I say to my children, I don’t make promises I cannot fulfill. So, one of the promises we heard in the heady days at the beginning of the current administration was the new PM, Andrew Holness, saying: “Within our first 100 days of government, we will start the legislative process to fix the date for general elections in Jamaica”.

Jamaica Observer · Holness promises: The first 100 days

Well, we know that legislation was being drafted, but we have no action on that, so as we approach the possible re-election of the PM who made the promise, we are still working within the imprecise maximum five-year term window, which closes in February or March 2021.

Now, it’s not cynical to say that the promise to “start the legislative process” was kept, but whose fault is it that we’re not much beyond the start point?

Now, my general view of the Jamaican electorate, specifically, and population, in general, is that they do not really demand much of politicians beyond promises. In my more frivolous musings, they remind me of little children who can be so taken in by tales of imaginary things and led down many a garden path by the fantastical images laid in front of them. Anyone, who has children and read them bedtime stories know that they can be strung along for hours, and then fall asleep and demand the story of ‘Maisie climbing into the soda bottle and finding a diamond at the bottom’ be continued. “Please, Daddy!” 🙂

So, here we are in July 2020 with no known general election date in sight.

I don’t gamble, but I am always interested in how people speculate on events, especially those which are dictated by the inner workings of people and their minds and processes that are mostly hidden or at best opaque. So, I watched as ‘pundits’ and ‘ordinary people’ speculated about ‘summer elections’. What drove much of the guessing was the PM promising that he would not call elections while States of Public Emergency (SOEs) were still in place, and the current batch (even just added to) was due to expire today, July 23. Well, blow me down with a feather! The man only went to Parliament and sought and got an extension, till September 3; it needs ratification by the Senate on July 24. “So, hold off on that end of August BBQ, Phyllis.”

While we have the gyrations about the date, you’ll have been more than a tad naive to have not noticed that certain types of ‘news’ began to appear once the smell of pork being roasted in the pit was replaced by that of the dust in your nostrils from politicians’ shoes on doorsteps. You know the visits from strangers who suddenly want to be your friend and come with rather large grins, clip boards, and a little bevy of people snapping images and making videos? People talk about the ‘hustings’, but we know that it’s really the ‘hustlings’.

So, the PM went a little roguish and made clear that political ‘dirty’ games were going to be played:

“They continue in Parliament and they are occupying the lands. They have no documentation. They do business there. They are using the Government’s electricity… So we are going through the land and we are seeing many of them from that pot…So we will, like them, just drip drip, drip drip,” he said, suggesting that the ruling party will be slowly releasing damaging information on the PNP. Because we have a little tank and they have a reservoir.”

This was just a couple of days after he had relieved his minster of agriculture of his post for some ‘sweet’ dealings on sugar lands with his ‘sweetheart’ and their son, and sent him to the ‘ante room’ for naughty boy, the Office of the Prime Minister, to play without a portfolio.

Don’t, but, but me about this being any kind of coincidence and not tit-for-tat; the man delivered on his promise! Mr. Wright, MP, knows the PM wasn’t wrong in his prediction, and Victor knows he may be the loser. The PM’s not reserved about looking to breach the ‘reservoir’.

But, guys and gals, the problem with all of this election uncertainty, normally, is that it sets people on edge and they have little confidence about their future and the economy has to stall to ensure that eggs are put into wrong baskets and golden geese aren’t cooked before chickens come home to roost.

This year, we are also in the seismic economic and social shift caused by a global pandemic. Now, the mind of the politician may well tell him/her that, at the margin, playing a little hanky-panky with the minds of voters and pre-election muck-racking won’t matter that much relative to the kick in the teeth suffered from the pandemic. So, give opponents a good tonking. Except, it does. Research has shown that ‘policy uncertainty generated by elections encourages private actors to delay investments that entail high costs of reversal, creating pre-election declines in the associated sectors’.

So, that’s the bottom line for me: not knowing when the election will be is an important drag on economic activity, and in a country that has struggled to grow for the better part of four decades, that’s another 5 kilos on the back of a horse that was already on its knees, though trying to get back on its feet.

The PM had also talked about starting impeachment processes in Parliament, but, let’s leave that there, for now 🙂

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. :)