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Elections Across the Region: Part Two

Education 28 Oct, 2020 Follow News

Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica

Bermuda Premier David Bart

In a few days, Tuesday November 3, to be exact, the United States will decide between its current President and its former Vice President. The President of the United States combines the roles of head of state and head of government and has enormous power and influence both within that country and internationally. With over 68.5 million persons having already voted since Tuesday the 27th, this election is being contested against the backdrop of over 227 thousand American deaths from the Coronavirus and some 8.85 million infected as of Tuesday the 27th. Human lives must be prioritized over politics and well known strategies to fight the virus must be utilized- physical distancing, wearing of masks, testing and the delivery of the best care to those affected.

There is much that can be learnt from how this situation has been handled in the Cayman Islands- decisive leadership by the known science of the day, and that places the saving of human lives as the most important objective.

For many of us, though it is not possible to find a perfect person for this position, this individual should embody the best of the human being in decency, principle and character and who believes that every child of God must be valued as equal in their humanity and treated as such. We anticipate a quick turnaround of the results and clarity in the choice of the American people.

For those following the recent elections in the Caribbean, I have already commented on the plebiscites in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.

The election results in Guyana were eventually decided after months of fiasco since the snap elections were held on March 2. A re-count of the votes on June 8 gave the PPP/C party victory, but a series of events, inclusive of injunctions and CCJ ruling, delayed the final pronouncement of this outcome until August 2, 2020.

In Trinidad and Tobago, elections were held on Monday, August 10, to elect 41 members of its Parliament. While there were fourteen parties contesting seats in Trinidad and four in Tobago, The People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (PNC) were the two main parties which contested. The incumbent Prime Minister, Keith Rowley, leader of The Peoples National Movement (PNC), won 22 seats, along with the popular vote, retaining the government, to the UNC’s 19.

Since then, the vote was also cast in Bermuda and Jamaica, both during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anguilla had also done so in June of this year.

Bermuda, a country of a population of around 64,000 and a GDP per capita of over 85,000, one of the highest in the world, held their elections on Thursday October 1. The government had amended the country’s Parliamentary Election Act, to allow its citizens of high risk to vote early or to do so from their homes. Its Premier, David Burt, who at 38 was Bermuda’s youngest ever, had called a snap election after three years as government, to seek a new five-year mandate to allow him enough time to focus on the economy, that is, to strengthen its tourism and international financial sector, even as it seeks ways to diversity its economic activities. Bermuda has a national debt of some US 2. 65 billion and with COVID-19 related expenditures, its debt limit has been adjusted to 2.9 billion. Nineteen percent of its population is reported living under the poverty line but in 2017, economist Robert Stubbs, pointing to the challenge of systemic poverty, gave 23% as the more likely figure, defining poverty as living below the median household income.

The incumbent Premier, David Burt of the Progressive Labour Party had a decisive, landslide victory, winning 30 of the 36 seats in Parliament. The Craig Cannonier led main opposition party, the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), only managed to win six seats. A new party formed just before the election, the Free Democratic Movement (FDM), saw all 14 of its candidates not winning a seat. There were also five unsuccessful independent candidates.

In the elections before, held on 18 July 2017, the Progressive Labour Party had won 24 of the 36 seats, with the other twelve going to the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) led at the time by the outgoing Premier Michael Dunkley.

According to the the Bermuda Parliamentary Registry , 25,763 of the 46,311 registered voters cast their ballots.

 

Jamaican Elections

As is now history, the Jamaican elections were held on September 3, of this year. Like Bart of Bermuda, the Jamaican Prime Minister had called early elections. The main issues, as expected, had to do with the state of the economy, high crime levels, issues of corruption, leadership, etcetera.

These elections, held during the pandemic, were violence free and the results were known within a few hours of the close of voting.

Jamaica, with a population of close to three million living on the island, has a GDP per capita of under $6,000. Prior to the COVID-19, economic indicators were becoming quite positive with modest GDP growth of close to 2%, significant spending in infrastructure and growth in the mining, quarrying and agricultural sectors, among others. The percentage of persons living below the poverty line had fallen 12. 6%.

The uptick in the economy, a youthful and popular Prime Minister along with leadership issues and perceptions of disunity in the main opposition party, presented the opportunity for the incumbent government to have won the elections but the extent of the defeat will be a matter for examination for some time. In a 63 member Parliament, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won 57% of the vote and 49 seats while the People’s National Party lost 16 seats ending up with 14. The voter turnout was 37%, the lowest since the elections in 1983. Since 1944, these two parties have been in and out, sharing power in this country.

The extent of the victory for the governing party is even more telling as analysts of the Jamaican political landscape consistently point to three categories of seats in this society. Guaranteed seats, called garrison constituencies, exist in Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, and Clarendon. Various social scientists have done significant work in exposing the nature of these political spaces and how they are a significant blot on this country’s political life. The other category, safe seats for one party of the other, have even contests, but the eventual outcome was predictable. Then there are some 18 so-called marginal, or swing seats which usually decide which party wins the elections. The nature of these results leaves garrisons intact but call in question the other two categories.

The Jamaican Prime Minister, with such a strong mandate, must bridle any temptation to abuse power, and must continue to use his youthful energy, education and experience in driving down the abominably high crime rate, by rooting out the related cancers of organized violence, dons and the like. Even within a COVID-19 environment, this government must work tirelessly to deliver on its promise of digitalization of the economy, universal internet access, the delivery of reliable water supplies to all citizens, reform of the education system, diversification of the economy, among others.

For both countries, the losing parties must engage in the serious analysis and reforms needed as they make themselves not only into strong opposition voices, but credible governments in waiting. These countries deserve no less. How to do this is the subject of the next article.


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