Thursday, January 5, 2012

...the Jamaicans rejected the People's National Party (PNP) in 2007 just like the Bahamians rejected the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in 2007... but that’s the unique beauty of democracy which we in the English-speaking Caribbean are proud of ...which has significantly contributed to the progress of our nation... The question remains however, will the Bahamian people just like their Jamaican counterparts vote the PLP back into power?

Jamaican elections 2011: A prediction of what to expect in The Bahamas in 2012?

By Arinthia S. Komolafe

On December 29, 2011, we witnessed the People’s National Party (PNP) in Jamaica command a landslide victory against the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the country’s 16th general election since Jamaicans were able to vote for the first time in 1944.  The elections came at a time when there were growing concerns among the electorate, as the country’s national debt climbed to approximately 130 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), a reported 12-13 percent unemployment rate, high crime rate, budget overrun on road works and corruption at the government level, including the most recent scandal of the JLP government and its connection to Christopher “Dudus” Coke that led former Prime Minister Bruce Golding to step down in favor of the now defeated Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

More than 1.6 million Jamaicans cast their votes in a hotly contested election, which opinion polls had suggested would be close.  The Jamaica Gleaner, the country’s oldest daily, even went as far as to predict a victory in favor of the JLP suggesting a 34-29 win.  However, the PNP under the leadership of 66-year-old Portia Simpson Miller returned to power after a close defeat in the 2007 general election, taking 41 of the 63 available seats in Parliament, the remainder going to the JLP and no seats going to independents or third parties.  The number of constituencies and available parliamentary seats in Jamaica were increased from an even number of 60 to an odd number of 63 in order to prevent a potential deadlock – a decision that may not have been unconnected to the close elections in 2007.

In light of the foregoing and looking closer on the home front, one cannot help but ask why Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and the boundaries commission agreed to a reduction of seats from an odd number of 41 to an even number of 38.  Considering the closeness of our 2007 general election and slim margins of victories by candidates seeking parliamentary seats, the wisdom of maintaining an odd number of constituencies should have been taken into consideration and ultimately prevailed.  At the very least, there should have been a minimum of 39 parliamentary seats to offer for in the next general election.  However, as we have witnessed the events unfold over the past few weeks and played out in the press, politics seems to have overridden any sense of logic.

The challenges facing us

Nevertheless, the challenges plaguing Jamaica are similar to those that we are faced with here in The Bahamas.  Voters are intelligent enough to recognize that the entire world has fallen victim to this global economic and financial crisis.  However, the electorate is not buying the use of the aforesaid as a valid excuse for things being the way they are – an excuse which governments around the world have politicized and are selling to their citizens.

The Jamaican elections were a prime example of the often underestimated wisdom and sophisticated knowledge of the 21st century voter.  Just a short few months ago, Jamaica’s minister of transport and works for the (former) ruling JLP government in Jamaica, Mike Henry, had to resign his post for cost overruns and mismanagement of a $400 million road work construction program in Jamaica.  As the funds were the result of a loan extended by the People’s Republic of China, disgruntled taxpayers and the opposition PNP were obviously not pleased with how the funds were being squandered so negligently during a time when the economy was and still is in such a depressed state.  In hindsight, their discontent was clearly a prelude of things to come based upon the election results.  The JLP seemed to have been negligent as it related to addressing the economic needs of the Jamaican people which prompted their bosses – the voting population – to reward them by sending a clear message to the JLP of what they felt about the last five years of JLP governance.  Faced with a similar scenario, the Bahamian people may follow in like manner at the polls in 2012 after experiencing unprecedented high levels of crime that have unfortunately increased tremendously over the past five years, and continuous loss of jobs with no hope for new ones to be created.

As a result the estimated unemployment rate has climbed to more than 18 percent.  To make matters worse, we are experiencing an increase in the closure of small and medium sized businesses and have had to watch with great agony the foreclosures of a multitude of Bahamian homes and properties.  Moreover, there’s an increasing perception that negligent spending of the taxpayers’ funds has helped push the debt-to-GDP ratio to more than 40 percent and the deficit to more than $4 billion.  This added to an increase in social problems, no doubt stemming from the aforementioned issues, adds to a laundry list of items, including an alarming high school drop-out rate that continues to increase, a national grade point average of D, a rise in teenage pregnancy cases, domestic violence, child molestation, recidivism among former inmates, increased illegal immigration and gun and firearms trafficking – all of which this government seems to have little or no answers to.

What is being done?

The problems facing our nation are serious and should not be overshadowed by petty politics.  We are on a downward spiral that will lead us on a continuous path of destruction if an urgent intervention is not undertaken. We have witnessed over these past five years that the current government has been hard-pressed to find solutions to the myriad problems that our nation is faced with.  The government and its public relations machinery on the other hand is saying, “do you see this and do you see that”, pointing to the various capital projects and expenditure initiated by the government during the last five years.  Like the average Bahamian, I recognize the importance of capital projects such as the roads, the new straw market, the acquisitions of buildings for government agencies and multiple projects left on the table by the former PLP government between 2002 and 2007, such as the Nassau airport development, Baha Mar, Thomas A. Robinson Stadium and so on and so forth.  However, the question remains as to whether these individuals recognize the thousands of Bahamians struggling to make ends meet each day and whether they are sensitized to the amount of children unable to attend school because their parents cannot afford uniforms, lunch and/or supplies.

We must acknowledge that several Bahamian families are growing hungry each day due to the continuous increase in the cost of breadbasket items, as their purchasing power continues to decrease due to inflation alongside the reality of minimal or non-existent increases in salaries.  One only needs to look around to see the thousands of Bahamian businesses that are shutting down largely in part due to the negligent mismanagement of road works, high cost of energy and increased taxes to operate a business in an already depressed economy.

These plights are added to the many Bahamians who are going homeless each day as they lose their homes to foreclosures.  The economies of our Family Islands are depressed, as the government has failed to diversify our economy and effectively develop these islands – the biggest victim of this depression being the second capital city of Freeport in Grand Bahama, whose woes unfortunately seem to have no end.  The multiple downgrades of our nation’s economy in 2011 by international ratings agencies do not provide a positive outlook for our nation and offer a bleak picture for the future unless viable solutions are forthcoming.

In the final analysis, the Jamaicans rejected the PNP in 2007 just like the Bahamians rejected the PLP in 2007, but that’s the unique beauty of democracy that we in the English-speaking Caribbean are proud of which has significantly contributed to the progress of our nation.  The question remains however, will the Bahamian people just like their Jamaican counterparts vote the PLP back into power?  Time will tell.  The clock is ticking and the countdown has already begun.


Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at:

Jan 05, 2012