Political analyst Peter Wickham has pointed to the People’s National Party’s (PNP) long reign in Jamaica and a lack of public engagement on critical issues, as contributing factors to the party’s defeat in yesterday’s general election.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won 33 of the 63 parliamentary seats to oust the PNP, which secured the remaining 30.
“When you are in office for as long as the PNP is, you have to deal with exhaustion. And clearly they did not grapple with the issue of exhaustion very well and now, fortunately or unfortunately, however the case may be, they’re in opposition,” Wickham told Barbados TODAY.
He noted that while the PNP had taken Jamaica through several financial crises, that was not highlighted on the campaign trail or through any serious debate on the state of the nation’s affairs.
“Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller . . . has always had a very populist stand. But there was an absence of any technocratic and intellectual debate in relation to dealing with the fundamental issues of Jamaica’s economic development, the way forward and so on, and the argument being used is that the thinking [section] of Jamaica’s population was denied the opportunity to grapple with those issues and essentially went with the Jamaica Labour Party,” he said.
Wickham noted that the results were “to some extent surprising”, as public opinion polls appeared to be trending towards the PNP. However, he admitted that the JLP’s close victory suggests that the electorate was ready for a change in leadership.
“The cycle, one can argue, has restarted, with a JLP government being put in place with a similar majority and a similar strength to what happened two elections ago, essentially tells me that the public of Jamaica is now asking for an alternative, a new direction. They’re ready to give the Jamaica Labour Party a chance, and I think that we should see a government that should hold itself together reasonably well for the next five years and, hopefully, end the cycle of one-term government and essentially win the next general election,” he said.
JLP leader and Prime Minister-elect Andrew Holness previously served as the country’s leader from October to December 2011, but the party lost the election that year to the PNP, winning only 21 seats to the PNP’s 42.
In his victory speech last night, he promised party supporters he would lead a government that is transparent and accountable to the electorate.
Wickham believes Holness’ election is an opportunity for him to make his mark on the island’s political landscape.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity. The prime minister is a young person, he does not come from a garrison constituency [and] I think he has the opportunity to reshape politics and essentially finish what he started about four years ago.”
However, looking beyond the shores of Kingston, Wickham does not hold out much hope that Jamaica will make any advancements towards regional integration under a JLP administration.
“The Jamaica Labour Party is well known to be somewhat more hostile to regional integration. Frankly, at this stage, I really don’t know that it matters. My sense is that right now, regional integration in the Caribbean is at an all-time low. It doesn’t really have any relevance to the vast majority of the population. Jamaica is peripheral to it and I think they will continue to be peripheral to it.
“They may never join, or at least probably wouldn’t join the Caribbean Court of Justice any time soon . . . I would be certainly more concerned if Jamaica had been more of a key player and I get the sense now that Jamaica is not really central to any of the moving and shaking within CARICOM [Caribbean Community]. Although having said that I’m not sure which Caribbean country is central to moving and shaking within CARICOM at this stage,” Wickham said.