While riding back from YS Falls, while stopped at Auntie & UJs for our return trip Pepper Shrimp, we heard a ruckus on the road. Cars, vans and motorbikes went by en-masse waving green flags, blaring car horns and blowing those veseuvela things. This went on for several minutes. At first I thought it was some type of sporting event that these folks were either going to or returning from, but I soon found out it was not that at all. That day in Mandeville there was a political rally where Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a general election for December 28th. For the first time in my many years of visiting Jamaica I would be there for an election.
Historically Jamaican elections have always been passionate. I was excited at the prospect of being around to witness this passion first hand. Knowing that passion sometimes turns violent I took a silent approach of listening and learning – and keeping my opinions to myself. This is not a country I vote it…so its best I just shut up.
So, using this approach people of all types – expats, Jamaicans event tourists – began to talk. I began to listen. I learned that where I lived – in Negril, was considered “PNP” country. Much like the US has its red states and blue states, Jamaican parishes lean one way or the other…Westmoreland and Hannover Parishes are PNP (orange), St. Elizabeth is JLP (green). Negril as a town is not an overly politicized place so it wasn’t like I was bumping into heated political discussions everywhere I went. Some of our friends were more than willing to share their views calmly and intelligently. According to them, while the JLP had been in power for the past four years crime statistics had most definitely dropped. But at what cost? The number of “extra-judicial killings” (READ: Murder by Police) had risen. One of these killings had reached Negril in a painful way when Mickey Hill was executed in the middle of the day right on Norman Manley Blvd. The Dudus Coke incident had most definitely stained this party’s term. Most were glad to see Mr. Coke extradited to the US but the ensuing violence in Kingston terrorized that nation for a time and this was not forgotten. The death knoll for Prime Minister Bruce Golding was the looming threat that Coke would open his little black book for all to see. He resigned his post in August 2011 and the young Mr. Holness took the helm at that time.
The scuttlebutt as I was hearing it was that the JLP would keep power. Mr. Holness was young and considered “untouched” or “barely touched” but the rampant political corruption that had plagued the country since it gained independence in 1962. He currently was the youngest Prime Minister to ever serve in Jamaica.
On December 28th when Jamaica went to the polls though a surprising turn of events occurred: The PNP and their leader, Mrs. Portia Miller-Simpson won by a landslide and taking two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.
The next day we were due to collect our friends at the airport for their first visit to Jamaica. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about road blocks at least, passionate demonstrations at worst. Niah put my fears to rest. The day after an election he assured us was a party day – both PNP and JLP supporters out on the streets celebrating. The election itself was remarkably peaceful, considering things don’t always go that way in Jamaica. We did leave earlier than usual just in case of traffic but what we saw from the van windows was indeed invigorating.
As soon as we hit the road orange was everywhere. Flags waving, people wearing orange tee shirts with either Mrs. Simpson or their regional representative emblazoned on the front. Buses, trucks and cars were filled with the cheering electorate. It was all very festive, barely a police officer seen – all but one standing across the street from a small gathering in a small town…just in case something got out of hand. It was exhilarating to watch and somewhat take part in – Niah was not shy about honking the horn. Our friends were treated to a spectacle not often seen by the casual visitor to Jamaica and started their trip on an upbeat and hopeful note.
A transition of power, done by the democratic process brings hope. Hope of change, “bettah mus come”. This government has its work cut out for it as the IMF continues to hold Jamaica in a head-lock. It will be a tough road to go with a debt that exceeds 120% of the country’s gross national product. For that day though the people of Jamaica could see the sunshine through the clouds.