Look out! Snap elections before December

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Look out! Snap elections before December

CHRISTOPHER BURNS

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Clearly, without the power of clairvoyance, there are inherent risks with the preceding proclamation. Worse yet, the old crystal ball Busha used to make fun of and conned a great many people is nowhere to be found. Consequently, the declarative headline, 'Prepare for snap elections before December,' is consciously audacious, because it is entirely up to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as he alone can call a general election — as set out in the Jamaican Constitution.

Everyone in the small community of Mount Resolution who knew Busha also knew that he was helplessly attracted to as many bosom-endowed women as he beheld. Busha also went by the monikers “Cage” and “Tits”. The sobriquet “Busha Cage Tits” took way too much energy to recite; hence, Cage or Tits was enough for teasing. Tits wore a necklace made from a fake chatoyant quartz, it produced a reflective streak in the centre of the ornament that caused his customers to believe it had magical powers. Still, he ran a largely unsuccessful, but chiefly successfully comical operation as a 'science man'.

Two things were true at the same time about Tits: His reputation as the “the little wild ole science man”, and his irascible personality. For reasons unknown, his dislike for the trilogy of words “invest”, “fur”, and “bank”, however innocuously organised or echoed by us boys, caused him deep and instant distress. He loathed those three words. He'd unfurl many yards of colourful 'cloth' to describe anyone who used them, witting or unwittingly, within earshot of him.

Busha was as die-hard a Labourite as he was an unabashed political opportunist. So long now expired, neither Dr Norman Dunn nor Shane “Sugar Shane” Alexis can seek his sage counsel on what magic to pull out of the political hat. That notwithstanding, were he alive and practising his routine of science and sorcery, Cage would most likely advise them both to: “Tun yuh role, walk backway, leave two bottle ah di good ole John Crow B...ty unda the guango tree, and don't figet to put some stones inna yuh pocket...” He loved his guango tree and offered its leaves as the cure-all for every illness under the sun.

Cage's Obeah man business thrived on schadenfreude. For, as night follows day, Cage would likely sweet talk both Dunn and Alexis into believing the odds of winning were 50-50, but only to hoodwink everybody else into thinking that, “As far as my crystal ball shows, Sugar Shane is definitely going to beat Dunn…'Im gwine beat him like a drum…” Then, he'd likely wager a big bet on Dunn; collect handsomely on election night, before rushing to one of his favourite banks and blaming Sugar Shane's misfortunes on the black pussycat he kept nearby for running across the room in the middle of vote-counting. For, after all, “black pussycats bring bad luck”.

That aside, Busha's reputation for accurately calling the results of every general election since 1944, up until the time of his death in 1990, was legendary. He was particularly known for his precision in predicting the winners in the St Mary Eastern (now St Mary South Eastern) constituency from the first election in 1944, when Independent candidate Victor Bailey won the seat. His track record for accuracy continued, as he accurately predicted victories for the father-and-son dynasty of Andrew “Daddy” Ross and Alva “Signie” Ross between 1949 and 1980. Surprisingly, and undoubtedly very painfully for him, in his final hooray Busha called it correctly in 1989, but in favour of Harry “Pip Pip” Douglas, who won the seat for the People's National Party for the first time. Pip Pip amassed around 943 more votes to defeat Signie Ross, sending him into political retirement.

I am no Tits. Neither do I have his crystal ball. But I happen to be a bit intuitively prescient. Paradoxically, my presentiment emanates chiefly from my analysis of politics. Evaluations, for instance, that tell me that no amount of sophisticated advertisements can sell a pack of bad dog food, and there is quite a bit of that in the political marketplace these days. Common sense also tells me that the amateurish video clips showcasing redistribution of a half-dozen, half-dead baby chicks will not move the needle by as much as a strand of hair, nor will it do anything to convince anyone to give active or positive consideration to the particular PNP Member of Parliament whose name was fully and embarrassingly unmasked. Those blatant and contemptuous acts of exploitation smack of political desperation and should sweeten Andrew “Brogad” Holness's election tea in ways that benefit him. To put it bluntly, those efforts make a complete “dog breakfast” of the true purpose of representational politics.

Speculate we must — it's the humanity in us — as even the Electoral Commission of Jamaica has just thrown some cold water on the pre-COVID-19 election fire. For, according to Glasspole Brown, director of elections, the voters' list scheduled for publication on May 31 will be delayed until July 31 2020. Said Brown, “…The effects of the COVID-19 hindered our preparations for the timely publication of the voters' list, particularly the residence verification for applicants…”

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with massive State resources at its disposal, is preparing for early elections, while the PNP excites itself on bales of confusion, without realising that “while the grass grows the horse starves”.

All that while my contemporaries in the political commentariat continue to regard Prime Minister Brogad as the man for and of the moment. And whilst that may or may not be entirely true, it would be foolhardy to characterise Brogad as an active practitioner of ethical altruism — at least within the political context.

He is a widely experienced and articulate political animal with enough Machiavellian instincts to make him shrewdly attractive, especially to younger voters. Speaking of younger voters, that cohort of under-35-year-old voters overwhelmingly supports the JLP, according the latest RJRGleaner Don Anderson opinion polls.

The post-COVID-19 challenge for Brogad will be to keep them well-motivated and focused as they deal with the immediate aftermath the pandemic has handed them, more so with dwindling access to remittances from abroad.

Whatever the JLP does, it simply cannot recoil on its prosperity political message and actions. Put simply, young voters are not as reliable as older voters are in going out to vote; and the PNP leads the JLP by far “and plenty” among older voters. It will eventually boil down to which party has the better digital advantage — although the JLP appears to be centuries ahead of the PNP.

Holness knows it is best to strike the iron whilst it's hot. Up until mid-February, and certainly before COVID-19 unleashed its fury on the world with devastating consequences for countries like Jamaica, opinion poll after opinion poll showed the JLP substantially ahead of the PNP. Expect Holness to walk and chew gum over the next two months. He will most likely follow St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, who declared June 5 as the date for a fresh general election in his country. Brogad is well aware that to do otherwise could prove risky.

Picture for a brief moment organisers of an egg-and-spoon race extending the distance to the finish line by several yards at a time. Certainly, it would not require more than a few seconds of pedestrian reasoning to figure out the automatic accretion in the degree of difficulty for each runner to reach the goal post. We need not look far for real-time examples that with the passage of time support can wane, thus increasing the degree of difficulty in delivering outcomes.

Take findings from the same Don Anderson polls, for example: Support for the states of emergency (SOEs) has declined. The results show that Jamaicans are divided on whether the measures have been effective and should continue. Of 1,038 people interviewed during the poll, which was conducted between February 8 and 18, 2020, only 49 per cent thought the SOEs are effective in fighting crime, versus the 51 per cent of respondents who saw them as effective.

Citing the results from the same series of polls: “[M]ore Jamaicans say there are improvements in the economy, as well as in their personal finances…and more than 50 per cent of those interviewed held the view that the economy has improved over the last four years.”

On the issue of party standing, “[T]he number of persons who say they would vote for the JLP has been steadily increasing since the party won the general election four years ago…and although the PNP has slightly narrowed the JLP's 11 percentage points lead, the number of persons supporting the PNP is 22 per cent versus the 30 per cent who say they would vote for JLP in the next election...”

Though polls are snapshots in time, that's a staggering eight percentage point lead for the JLP. It translates to a 58 per cent to 42 per cent comparison in a head-to-head matchup, with a potential 16 per cent lead for the JLP, in what could easily be a political “batteration” for the Peter Phillips-led PNP. The only caveat: Popular votes do not necessarily convert to automatic big seat count advantages. In 1949, for example, the PNP won the popular vote, but lost the election by four seats. In 1962, and again in 1967, the PNP came within 8,359 and 6,977 votes of the JLP, but lost by 7 and 13 seats to the JLP. I cannot see Andrew “Brogad” Holness dilly-dallying or pretending to be skilful in the area of rope-a-dope political boxing with a far better pugilistic, political organisation than his own JLP — hype notwithstanding.

Brogad is no political dunce. In fact, he has quickly become one of Jamaica's greatest politicians. More noteworthy is that he has become one who also understands how to “…campaign in poetry and govern in prose...” He already knows he is the prime minister of all of Jamaica. He also knows, and has said inter alia: “…Politics is part of governance…” A fair inference from his declaration means he will make exceptions that facilitate “bringing home the bacon” to certain areas. That is true, because in his “politics is part of governance” model there are bound to be considerations and decisions that Government makes that will overwhelmingly and positively favour or benefit certain constituencies than they do others — delivery of the Chesterfield Bridge is a good example.

However committed politicians claim to be, especially when they speak about upholding democratic principles, politicians always end up doing what they do best — politics. As such, they will take advantage of whatever political tailwinds are available to push their political aircraft forward; unless they genuinely want to win the battle, but lose the war. Or, in other words, they prefer to achieve minor successes or victories, but lose or fail to achieve the more important overarching goals. Furthermore, wise politicians do not acquiesce to an opponent's lamentations about “bad timing” of elections due to this or that situation — not in a zero-sum game or binary choice situations where one either wins or loses.

Real estate is all about “location, location, location”. In politics, everything is about timing, organising, timing, organising, timing, then some more timing. It is for that reason that I remain firm that we should prepare for a snap election immediately after this COVID-19 focus abates, but substantially before the economic fallout begins to take hold and the steam within the pressure cooker becomes unmanageable and uncontainable.

And, with the hurricane season already in full action, Brogad is hardly expected to do another 'Portia' by calling the election in the middle of a hurricane season. In that context, rush is indeed a gamble, but delay is a risk. Brogad will likely gamble by calling it soon-soon.

Christopher Burns is CFO and vice-president of finance for a multinational. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or burnscg@aol.com.


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