Jamaica Peacefully Chooses a New Government. Young Activists Take a Bow

A Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaign meeting in Mandeville, 2011. The party beat the People's National Party (PNP) by three seats in Jamaica's 2016 general elections. Photo by Yorkali Walters, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

A Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaign meeting in Mandeville, 2011. The party beat the People's National Party (PNP) by three seats in Jamaica's 2016 general elections. Photo by Yorkali Walters, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

It was a long day, and a relatively long election night, but the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was finally declared the winner of Jamaica's 2016 general elections with a three-seat advantage over the People's National Party (PNP), which had governed the island for the past five years.

As the final count begins, preliminary results show a win of 33 (JLP) to 30 (PNP)seats. As predicted, the race was tight and there were also some surprises, keeping Jamaicans glued to their radios, televisions — and their smartphones.

Online activists were quick to give credit to the so-called #ArticulateMinority (a term coined by PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill) for the election results.

Low voter turnout, but elections generally “free and fair”

Despite one or two problems earlier in the day, voting was generally peaceful, although quite slow in some areas (sparking the hashtag #stayinline). Television reporter Dwayne Anderson quipped:

Voter turnout, as expected, was low; but public opinion polls, which gave the People’s National Party the edge, fell a little short. However, a privately commissioned poll conducted by Trinidadian Derek Ramsamooj proved more accurate. Some have attributed the record low turnout of eligible voters (47.5%) to disaffected PNP supporters who decided not to vote. However, the downturn is also part of a declining voter trend over the past three elections.

Twitter and the #ArticulateMinority

Social media activists and commentators were extremely active on Twitter throughout the evening. When the results emerged, Nationwide News Network‘s Cliff Hughes was the first to “declare” the results, just before 9 pm:

Hughes added:

Online activists were also happy to advertise their participation in the democratic process. Many tweeted photos after voting, with purple, ink-stained fingers:

Many urged fellow Jamaicans to vote:

Another tweeted:

One new voter (among close to 35,000 voters joining the electoral list for the first time last November) tweeted proudly:

Changes needed in the political process

The elections provoked some political commentary, with many arguing that a change in Jamaica's political system was needed. Popular young reggae singer Protoje tweeted:

The morning after the polls, some online commentators were also seeking to analyze the factors behind the PNP's loss. Political analyst and academic Hume Johnson, among others, suggested that the PNP had become too complacent and were punished for it at the polls:

Another tweeter noted that the former government's refusal to tackle issues publicly had come back to haunt them:

Student activist Germaine Bryan concurred:

The PNP’s refusal to debate was a poor strategic move […] After being predominantly silent on topical issues over the last several years, the Jamaican people were anticipating to hear what their Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had to say; and more importantly how she would square off against a more learnt Andrew Holness. But it would appear to many that the PNP believed facing the people in this way was not a necessity for them to win the race, while not realizing that the people did in fact hold the staging of a debates in high regard. At this point, I think the people started to question the integrity of the PNP, and how far they fall on the party’s list of priorities; a party that is suppose[d] to be for the people.

Traditional versus new media

While the PNP had a much higher profile in the traditional media during the campaign, a young professional commented, in reference to the highly enjoyable and much praised PNP rally in Half Way Tree, Kingston:

Meanwhile, there is a sense of relief among many Jamaicans that the long campaign (which unofficially began well before Christmas) is now over, and that the nation can get back to work. One Twitter user observed:

Despite all the ups and downs of Jamaica's “silly season”, there was no doubt that the JLP made better use of social media during its election campaign, especially targeting the youth vote. Prime Minister-elect Andrew Holness had the last word, calling on Jamaicans to keep exercising their civic voice via new media:

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