Its the day after elections in Jamaica. The results are in and the conversations on social media, in offices with friends and family on whats app seem to all revolve around what could have caused the PNP, the ruling party, to lose the elections. We now know that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will form the next government, but the shock of a PNP loss has caused a lot of people to question the strategy and process that both parties engaged in as they attempted to unseat the PNP and relocate them to the opposition benches in Gordon House. Firstly, I must say that the question is hardly what did the JLP do right? How did they get to defeat the PNP? It almost always is what did the PNP do wrong. The trouble with this question is that it assumes that the PNP has an a priori right to win elections and form successive governments. It also does not allow for a thorough investigation into the reasons for the win with the same level of intensity as the reasons for the loss. In my estimation it diminishes the quality of the dialogue which we engage as we seek to interrogate voter behaviour towards finding an answer. Some of us will need to identify the trends and suggest possible answers outside of proposing that election day results are almost entirely dependent on who gets their voters out. While I agree that this is pivotal, it assumes that the voter lacks agency.
I propose that the JLP win/PNP loss cannot be blamed on one factor, a number of other issues were at play. Firstly, the PNP’s dialogue was confident of a PNP victory, bolstered by the polls which also predicted a win. I believe that this narrative impacted the behaviour of those who would traditionally vote PNP as they felt that since a victory was secure they might not need to come out and vote. PNP like JLP ‘diehards’ are hardly likely to switch party loyalties, if they are dissatisfied with policies and strategies of their party they will not vote. Despite attempts to take them to polling stations they stayed away from the polls, despite the machinery on the ground, despite assurances that it is the party with the better machinery for getting out the voter that will win, the PNP, believed to be that party, did not win.
In 2011 JLP supporters did the same thing, they chose to stay away from polling stations, they did not vote and the JLP suffered a searing defeat. They had only served for one term. So now we know that the Jamaican voter might be a little more sophisticated than we had projected. Perhaps the political behaviour is more complex, those who we label as ‘loyalists’ and ‘diehards’ are finding voice in non-traditional ways. It might very well be that this defeat by the JLP provides the motivation for the PNP to move away from their insistence that they have the best election machinery this side of the hemisphere and spend some time on re-engaging around the core principles and philosophies of their party.
But this explanation would not apply in the case of the JLP, who must remember that this same set of voters who came out to vote and put them back in control of the government, had stayed away the last time. They turned up this time because they have expectations of the JLP. Unmet expectations can be lethal and for this reason I hope the JLP understand’s that if they are not careful they could become the first party voted out of office after one term twice. Some Jamaicans are finally recognizing the power of the vote, as one gentleman said to me ‘the vote is di ongle ting we have, an dem feel like we a idiot so we goin to show dem we power”