EDITOR, The Tribune.
At the recent heads of agreement signing for the Jack’s Bay Resort development, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis is reported to have said that he is “more focused on saving lives than calling an early election.” General elections in this country, for all intents and purposes, have become pastime events for Bahamian revelers and entertainment seekers. Issues of national importance are usually not high on the agenda of these people looking for free entertainment and food.
In the lead up to the September 3 general election in Jamaica, Bahamian political operatives had started a discussion about a potential snap election being called before Christmas, due to the Free National Movement’s (FNM) handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to them, the Bahamian people have lost confidence in the Minnis administration.
For these political operatives, the Jamaican general election, in the event that the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) loses, will portend doom for the incumbent FNM. That didn’t happen, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica.
The JLP won a staggering 49 of the 63 seats in Gordon House. The official Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), under former leader Dr Peter Philips, won just 14.
In the 2016 general election, the PNP, then led by Portia Simpson-Miller, won 31 seats. For the JLP and Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the 49 seats represent an increase of 17 seats.
With 1,913,410 registered voters, only 714,808 or 37 percent of Jamaicans voted.
In the 2016 general election, 48.37 percent voted. Conversely, in the Bahamian general election of 2017, voter turnout was pegged at 88.36 percent.
Jamaican political analysts have suggested that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is one reason for such a low voter turnout – the lowest since the 1983 election, in which then Prime Minister Edward Seaga called a snap election.
The PNP, under Michael Manley, chose not to contest that election. Many PNP supporters chose not to participate.
Elections were scheduled to be held in 1985. The previous election was held in 1980 – the year 844 people were murdered. Jamaican political analysts have estimated that 700 of those murders were politically motivated.
Unlike The Bahamas where political violence is rare, political violence in Jamaica is commonplace. Since the 1940s when Jamaica attained adult suffrage, the vexing matter of garrison politics has dogged our CARICOM ally.
Certain constituencies are run by political Dons, named after the fictional character Vito Corleone in the Godfather film.
These political Dons are tasked with insuring that voters in their area vote a certain way – or else. Thankfully, Holness is attempting to dismantle the political garrisons.
I believe that the presence of political Dons is one reason for Jamaica’s low voter turnouts. Granted, more Jamaicans opted to stay away from the polls due to COVID-19.
But the COVID-19 pandemic is just half the story. With the JLP victory, it is two straight election wins – something that hasn’t happened in The Bahamas since 1997, when former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham led the FNM to two consecutive wins against the Progressive Liberal Party and the late Sir Lynden Pindling.
With its 3,185 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths, Jamaicans apparently are satisfied with the Holness administration’s handling of the pandemic. Jamaica has a population of over 2.9 million.
The Bahamas, with its population of nearly 400,000, as of September 7, has 2,585 confirmed cases and 59 deaths – 25 more than Jamaica. For all intents and purposes, Jamaica is outperforming The Bahamas in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having said all of that, in the event Minnis calls a snap election, would the FNM win, as the JLP managed to do? That all depends on how Bahamian voters feel about PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis. Despite the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am not that confident that the FNM is doomed. Time will tell.
Freeport, Grand Bahama,
September 7, 2020.