3 Important Lessons from the February 25 General Elections in Jamaica

The night the People’s National Party (PNP) lost the election.

For the elections in Jamaica on February 25, 2016, it was the economy, stupid. Although all politics is local, a tsunami of unexpected political swing nationally against the PNP made 10 or more marginal seats deliver the biggest upset, albeit the tightest election victory in Jamaica.

Here are 3 important lessons from the election:

1. Understand the New Voter in Jamaica

If Facebook is anything to go by, there are over 1,000,000 Jamaican subscribers on the social media platform. If the telecommunications industry will be the judge of how connected the Jamaican society is, we are hyperconnected and exposed to and fully aware of current international political trends.

Source — http://www.siliconcaribe.com/

The new voter in Jamaica basked in the Obama victory, is keenly watching the Democratic and Republican Presidential Primary contest more than the political class would readily admit and does not identify with either the Jamaica Labour Party or the People’s National Party. Furthermore, most millennials and Generation Z voters adore politicians from both side of the political divide. From my own Twitter timeline where the articulate minority reigns supreme, they support a Damion Crawford, Raymond Pryce, Julian Robinson, Lisa Hanna, Floyd Green, Alando Terrelonge, Kamina Johnson Smith, Andrew Holness and the list goes on — filled with younger politicians, post-Independence politicians, who they feel bring to the table a renewal in thinking, energy and a generational thinking which resonates with young people.

Jamaican political historians and analysts will acknowledge that there exist a base for the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party. The new voter in Jamaica is debunking that established belief. Because voter apathy is at its highest, one will find fewer eligible voters exercising their franchise along party lines. This was clearly evident in the last elections on February 25. If political observers are to believe the People’s National Party has the larger base of the two major political parties, it should have been an easy election win. Bear in mind the achievements of the PNP, stabilizing the economy, the investments in tourism — over 7,000 hotel rooms expected, the development in road infrastructure etc.

On the contrary, the new voter in Jamaica will not vote because of loyalty to a party or what you have accomplished. What’s next is what they ask! To highlight this point, many parents and grandparents who grew up traditionally JLP or PNP will confess that their 20–30–40 year-old family members do not see green or orange. Which has me questioning any polster in Jamaica who is ready to conclude that majority of Jamaicans are ready to vote because “mi bawn PNP.” Those days are no more. Our people, or those who are ready to vote are issues based. They want to know the issues the Member of Parliament will support. If any MP think they can become a backbencher (a name I despise) will have a bigger fight in the next election. It’s a new day in politics. The way you dress, the way you carry yourself, how you articulate your ideas, your character and experience in life will begin to play a part for successful politicians.

This is the political dilemma for the major political parties who find their supporters not identifying with a political ideology. In fact, in the last election, the Jamaica Labour Party appeared to be the socialist — promising everything — and the People’s National Party appeared to be the fiscal prudent-conservative party.

The new voter in Jamaica is screaming “I am forever undecided” — being resolute and bolstered in the belief that on both sides in Gordon House there is good and voting issues based has become the new standard.

The new voter wants Jamaica first, party last. On the flip side, this creates an opportunity for both political parties to rebrand and appeal to new voters who want to be involved in governance and the political process.

2. OVER-Communicate

This year, we will produce more information than the world has seen in the previous 5,000 years. Recently, tests have been carried out on third generation fiber optics, demonstrating that one single fiber optic strand can carry ten trillion bits of information per second. We are living in a data driven world that affords 100 billion Google searches per month on the Internet, and 175 million Facebook users connected at any given moment. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world.
Lisa Hanna, MP

In over-communicating, you need key strategists who understand the digital game to lead the process. The social media strategy executed by the JLP was not the most brilliant election campaign. Jamaica is yet to experience a general election led by “brilliant” digital strategies. Political observers have been comparing JLP’s social media game in the election period to Obama’s campaign for US President. Stop! Before you do, please research Obama’s digital strategy and watch the videos online delivered by his team to delve into winning an election digitally. The gaps in the social media strategy employed by the PNP highlighted the missing digital link for the Simpson-Miller led PNP.

The graphic below was shared by JLP’s Creative Director in the general elections. If this social media insight from Holness’ Facebook page is anything to interpret from the 2016 elections, the page that bought so many Facebook advertising spots online should have yielded a higher return in people reached and people engaged.

The decision not to debate in hindsight was the final nail in the coffin. Even if the People’s National Party had won the election, hopefully, the postmortem would have revealed that debating in any growing democracy should be considered by those seeking to represent the people. Since the election loss, my informal survey with cab drivers across Kingston agree that a debate was important. Politicians must understand how disliked they are in Jamaica. Outside of the massive screaming fans in Half Way Tree and across the island, there are thousands of Jamaicans who want to have nothing with politics, pastors who preach to their congregations imploring them to stay away from the evil political movement and those Jamaicans who think that politicians do absolutely nothing in government for the greater good of the nation. From that premise, the general elections received the lowest voter turnout with the numbers trending down with each passing election. That’s unacceptable.

This creates another opportunity for both political parties to engage with the people, sitting on the corners and walking in the towns with the message of hope through governance. The response to the decision not to debate was the loudest slap in the face to every politician who have concluded that if they received 500 votes or in some cases 150 more votes, they would win their Parliamentary seat.

3. Youth, Youth, Youth

Marlene Malahoo Forte, Floyd Green, Alando Terrelonge — all new young faces of the Jamaica Labour Party. How many roads have they fixed? How many Parish Council contracts did they receive? How many millions and billions of dollars in investments did they bring to the constituencies they now represent?

February 25, 2016 heralded a new day for politics in Jamaica. This election proved to every young aspiring politician in Jamaica, that if you want to represent the people, you can win a seat to sit in the House of Representatives against any incumbent. Jamaica’s youth population has sent the first political signal that they want people of their age to represent them at the highest level. Young people across this country who will not identify themselves as JLP or PNP are calling for more Raymond Pryce(s) and Damion Crawford(s) to be returned to the political circle. For those who were the architect in pushing out Pryce and Crawford from the PNP, your political calculation was wrong. Moreover, the tide is not shifting in your favour.

What political lessons should both parties learn? My guess is as good as yours.

The tide is shifting. The next generation is here.