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Losing an election can be devastating. Worse if your party has always won in what is an accepted safe seat constituency. The People’s National Party (PNP) is still smarting from its East Portland By Election loss suffered on April 4, 2019. Not only was this loss one that the party desperately wanted to avoid, but this loss is one of the most painful.
The PNP’s pain is that the East Portland seat was its traditional safe seat, one that it should not have lost. The question is – what will the Peoples National Party do to reverse its poor showing at the polls before the next General Election constitutionally due in 2021?
PNP Election Loss
The first time the PNP suffered an election loss was in 1944. Subsequently, the party determined that its best course of action was to organise itself better on the ground. So, the party cranked up its organisational machinery, and in subsequent General Elections saw nine victories, the last being in 2011. The party had become quite adept to organising on the ground that for a while, it appeared that nothing could stop its crowd-pulling appeal.
The PNP fortunes changed in 2016 when the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) pulled the rug from under its feet to create a stunning upset at the polls. Granted that the JLP won by only one seat – the narrowest of margins. The reality was that up to close to the date of the 2016 General Elections, the PNP practically had it in the bag. Most of the polls were saying this.
But the JLP pulled a rabbit out of the hat – in the form of the promise of a $1.5 million tax break that the electorate widely misinterpreted. The PNP simply had no answer to that tactic. Consequently, the PNP suffered another election loss.
What Happened in East Portland
In the East Portland By-Election, the PNP relied on the popularity of its candidate Damion Crawford to once again secure the safe seat. Alas, that was not to be, as the well organised and funded Vaz campaign team outmaneuvered the party and clinched a victory. In the October 2017 by-elections to secure the marginal seat of St. Mary South Eastern, the JLP beat the PNP by 900 votes using organisation and communication via social media.
What occurred in Portland Eastern was the erosion of the PNP’s 2,000-voter majority it had secured after the 2016 polls. Although Damion Crawford managed to pull a respectable number of voters on Election day, this was not enough to avert a PNP election loss.
Allegedly, there was a huge influx of money and projects inside of Eastern Portland by the governing JLP ahead of the by-elections. Whether such an allegation is true, the PNP’s election loss must be understood in terms of the strength or weakness of the party and its leadership.
Dr. Peter Phillips, the leader of the PNP, has had a long and distinguished political career. The next General Elections would be his first real foray as party leader to snatch the reigns of power from the governing JLP.
Time for a Change PNP
Political observers are not unanimous in their assessment that Dr. Phillips, at age 69 has the energy and charisma to galvanise support and lead his party to victory. Furthermore, the Peoples National Party has the opportunity to seriously evaluate itself and reposition its message to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate. One hurdle that he and his party must face is the lack of enthusiasm for the PNP that the majority of Jamaicans of voting age is showing. The majority of voters are under the age of 40 and are not steadfastly loyal to any political party. This is a challenge worth accepting as the PNP must seek to regain its foothold in the political landscape.
Otherwise, without a change in its posture, the party may find itself once again at the receiving end of a sound electoral loss.
For the victorious JLP, the people of East Portland have high expectations. Effectively, to experience quick prosperity that they did not achieve in the 30 years the constituency has been under the PNP.