In the coming elections on the 27th of this month the Jamaican people will be deciding on whether to reinstate current Prime Minister Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica's first female Prime Minister of the leftist People's National Party (PNP), or whether to elect main opposition leader Dr. Bruce Golding of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP); 18 years out of office and considered more to the right of its opponent.
Simpson-Miller, only the third female head of Government in all of the Anglophone Caribbean countries, replaced the then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson on the 26th of February earlier this year by 47% of the party's vote. She first rose to prominence by winning a seat in the tough inner-city constituency of Trench Town West - the first time her party had ever won that seat.
Though keen to flaunt her credentials among the poorer communities, over the past three months the PNP have gained a 15-point jump in electoral support from the middle classes and has seen a recent slump in support from working people.
Both parties have roots in the Trade Union movement; Norman Washington Manley - founder of the PNP in 1938 - had strong links with the National Workers' Union, along with his cousin Alexander Bustamante who founded the JLP five years later. Bustamante was a notorious rebel and leader of the struggle against colonial rule. During the labour rebellion of 1938 in Jamaica he came to be identified as a spokesperson for workers on strike. He was imprisoned for subversive activities in 1940 and released in 1942, a year before founding the JLP. In 1980 when Edward Seaga was elected as President the JLP lost all clear ties with its radical background. He made it clear in Washington and Kingston that he would be aligning Jamaica with the US and breaking all hitherto relations with Cuba. Seaga, who was vehemently anti-Marxist, decided that Jamaica would be one of the five Caribbean nations who gave support to the collapse of the New Jewell movement (New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation) in Grenada and the US led invasion of the island in 1983 known as Operation Urgent Fury.
Although the PNP have too undergone a great deal of moderation since its early days it still identifies itself on the left. A social-democratic party affiliated with Socialist International, it has enjoyed a parliamentary majority from 1972-1980 and since 1989 to the present day. Since 1989 - much like another Socialist Party a little closer to home - it intended to take advantage of globalisation, promote the private enterprise and abandon most of its Socialist rhetoric.
The Capitalistic advancements of both parties leave no true alternative for the Jamaican Working Class. Long gone are the days of Trevor Munroe, founder of the Workers Party of Jamaica (WPJ) in 1978, a Marxist ally to the PNP which has now since defunct. The Party backed closer relations with Cuba while simultaneously the US pushed a destabilisation campaign ahead of the 1980 elections. Needless to say this saw the Presidency of anti-Cuban Seaga. In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner Munroe stated that his party had made a big contribution to social reform; one such reform being the maternity leave laws. When asked about the PNP he responded that the administration had good intentions but needed to "practice what it preaches." In a recent debate between Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson-Miller, Golding was able to show the upper hand intellectually over a latent Simpson-Miller which summarised a comment made by Trevor Munroe in the interview back in 2000 that the PNP had become "drunk with power" and not necessarily sticking to their promises.
The policies for the PNP this election seem to be a reiteration of its previous ones that they still need to achieve. One promise, already standing is reaching 100% literacy in Jamaica. As it stands the island ranks at 79.9% on a Human Development report. The Party hopes to achieve the goal by implementing a national remediation programme.
Both parties hold education with high regard both promising new schools, an increase in student loans, e-learning programmes, and specialist teachers. The increased amount of money a student can apply for under a JLP Government would see an extension to the loan repayment with low interest. In a bizarre justification for the expense of an education and the increase in debt Andrew Holness, a JLP spokesperson on education told the Jamaica Gleaner "Education is a lifetime investment ... so essentially you could treat it [student loan and debt] as a mortgage." As it stands interest rates on loans are 12%.
The JLP wants to put most of their focus on job creation which Golding has made clear cannot be a hoped-for by-product of the party's economic strategy. Elements of this economic strategy include abolishing public Hospital fees, removal of Secondary School level tuition fees, an independent Bank of Jamaica reporting to Parliament, instead of a the minister of finance, and increased Governmental support for the manufacturing sector.
The parties are both enthusiastic about community based ways of tackling crime, and bettering private-sector pensions - which currently only covers 70,000 workers out a total one million. It is apparent that economic issues are being addressed by both parties but much emphasis is being risked on entrusting the private sector for support. This rise in seeking saviour from laissez-faire enterprises is by no means a statement of the welfare of the working class. Poverty is still rife in the inner cities. The policies show this from both sides with the likes of fee abolishing in the public sector, but the answers seem not to inspire too much hope.
It is expected that the Government of the next term will further its challenge to US hegemony realised in Jamaica's production of bauxite - the principle ore used in aluminium - which the island is the fifth largest producer of. President Lula of Brazil recently visited Jamaica for a business summit and for a long overdue visit with the Head of Government. He unveiled plans by both Governments to produce ethanol allowing them to gain a foothold in the US market. Whilst in Jamaica Lula participated in opening a US$20 Million ethanol plant. As it stands the private sector will benefit from these gains but Simpson-Miller has urged business leaders - in vain - to not just create wealth for themselves but to pump it back into the community.
The prominent dispute of expansion in ethanol production is the effect it will have on the great number of people who rely on corn for livelihood. The prospective of low priced corn and its consequences on reliant communities prompted Fidel Castro to criticise Lula - and President Bush alike - for condemning "premature death and thirst [to] more than 3 billion people of the world." Hugo Chavez's critical focus is on Lula's interest in the North American and European markets which is compliant with the US' enticing South America and the Caribbean away from Caracas. Further moves into the hands of the Bush regime for Jamaica is obviously at the expense of a proper solution to eliminating urban poverty and of course poverty of all scales - that solution being Socialism.
It was reported that Lula had further plans to press on for a merge between CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) and Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which was one of the reasons he visited Simpson-Miller, a statement on this can be expected in due course. One common criticism of the practicality of a common Caribbean market is the differences in exchange rates between CARICOM member states making the plan improbable. Bruce Golding expressed fears that CARICOM had only redistributed poverty - wiping out industries such as biscuit manufacturing in Trinidad. Governments are needed to instigate the legislative changes that are required in the economy. These changes will not be realised with such an embrace of the private sector. In the South American market, a large bulk of the turnover of nationalised oil in Venezuela is being used to finance inner city projects for its poorest communities, for Jamaica, embracing a similar initiative could reap similar benefits. The potential is there, the question remains why this is not in either party's interests, especially the PNP. Clearly, the distance will further the PNP now from its Socialist roots if a merge is created between CARICOM and Lula, when his interests mirror those of George Bush's.
While there has been a great many issues that both parties have recognised and at least given promises to reform, one issue that remains ignored and unspoken of is gay rights. In a country that is 65% Christian (Protestant from the influence of British colonialism and more recent US influence) it is hardly surprising to learn that the support of rights for homosexuals is a political no-go in Jamaica. Diane Taylor reported for The Guardian in August 2004 that following the murder of gay activist Brian Williamson a letter published in the Jamaica Observer the next day read, "To be gay in Jamaica is to be dead." The article by Taylor further announced that Jamaica was on the British Home Office's "safe country list" and applications of homosexuals were often dismissed unsympathetically - which paints a different picture than that the far right would have us believe. The PNP has claimed that homophobia is not a problem or that it reflects the conservative social values of the Jamaican people. After recent focus on homophobic lyrics from reggae artists such as Buju Banton, along with information from Amnesty International about gays and lesbians being subjected to police brutality, clearly there needs to be an urgent recognition of a problem. Moreover, the problem also reflects the Jamaican criminal code. Article 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act prohibits sex between men. Further, Article 79 prohibits acts of gross indecency between men. Gross indecency is not properly defined but is generally thought to cover conduct between consenting adults, or even holding hands. Bruce Golding commented that "homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him" and was allegedly supported by several clergymen and a Trade Unionist. For the PNP to say that discrimination is an innate part of the Jamaican people's life is an outrageous cop-out. But it is also clear that the people's view on homosexuality reflects that of the law. It can only be a progressive thing to change the law on this in order to combat hatred.Undeniably there are severe issues that need to be put at bay in Jamaica, and as always these things will not change overnight. But with current PNP latency change within those rankings seem unlikely at all. The best chance the county has to seize the possibilities that lay ahead is for the PNP to practice what it preaches like Trevor Munroe advised, instigate economic reform and become a major opponent of US dominance, that is, to fight for socialism. After this, social reforms improbable in a private enterprise dominated society can be more easily achieved.