Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, July 27, 2007

Election time...in Jamaica

Spending a few days in Jamaica right now is interesting. Many things about Caribbean life are similar across the islands, but some things are very different. One of the similarities is how our politicians try to show themselves to be like "ordinary" people at election time. For us that has to be more than kissing babies. In Jamaica's case, PM Portia Simpson-Miller is always ready to dance on stage at a rally. Opposition leader, Bruce Golding, can be seen sympathizing with a local person's plight.

One of the differences is the presence of political violence around election time. Jamaica will have national elections on August 27, and in the long run in to that date, much of the focus is on whether politically related violence can be kept in check. The parties have signed a Code of Conduct, and we will have to see if that makes any real difference. In the early days, it's clear that there will be violence. The reactions of the parties' spokesmen to any event highlight the animosity that is always there between the ruling People's National Party (PNP) and the oppostion Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Charges of "liar" come forward very fast. The police have so far come forward with robust responses and statements warning that they will not tolerate attempts to intimidate by residents' blocking access to communities. Reports indicate some candidates have been shot at, and investigations are underway. Graffiti slogans have been daubed on constituency offices (though in one case, the local JLP has arranged for this to removed from PNP property). Grand promises are coming, so too is the need to clarify "misunderstandings", such as the JLP's position on reducing the police force's working week to 40 hours.

So far, the newspapers have found many other things to continue to report besides electioneering events. On television, the evening news seem to focus more on the election-related town meetings, possibily because these look spectacular (with PNP rallies decked in orange and yellow, and PLP rallies decked out in green). The TV electioneering sound bites are not very illuminating. However, some of the studio analysis is really very good, and there is a lesson here for any of the Caribbean countries: the moderator really could keep control of the guests, and they in turn showed good moderation in their desire to hog the lime light and throw accusations. So far, there have been no proposals for a CNN/YouTube debate by the party leaders or candidates, as happened this past week in the USA, but in the Internet age, nothing like this can be ruled out once it has been made possible.

Where Jamaica seems to be following the US is in spending increasing amounts on elections (one estimate indicates that this could reach J$600 million, about US$9 million). Legitimate concerns are raised in this region about who finances politicians, and what influence this can have on outcomes. We do not have the strong limitations on party financing, as in the UK or US (where even with such limits one sees many abuses).

The organization of the elections will be another major issue, and so far measures to ensure secret voting, avoid vote abuse, and minimize intimidation seem to have been well thought out and being put in place properly. That is one of the benefits of having enough time to organize the elections.

Superstition always has its place in Caribbean life. The "magic" of 7s is at play in the Jamaican elections, starting with the choice of date. All eyes watch keenly as any other plays on 7 occur.

I will keep following events when I get back to Barbados, hoping that the violence does not erupt on anything like the worst levels that Jamaica has seen in the past. For others who wish to follow from a distance a good site is Jamaica Elections 2007. It contains profiles of all constituencies, a daily news digest of election coverage, photographs and cartoons (from which I have drawn).


Christina said...

If you're still in Jamaica, a really interesting activity is to see if you can spot the PNP/JLP flags in various communities. Weeks ago they were all over Kingston, but following a joint statement by party heads many of them were removed. The enforcement, however, doesn't seem to have spread to the smaller towns outside of Kingston, so you can still see where PNP territory ends and JLP begins. Sometimes, each street is a different territory!


Dennis Jones said...

I saw a little evidence of this in St Elizabeth and Westmoreland at the weekend, but it coincided with political rallies that were organized the day I travelled. I see in today's Gleaner that the Political Ombudsman has told parties to remove all such items and graffiti (see http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20070801/lead/lead1.html).