There's no doubt that Jamaicans enjoy a hard-fought political campaign. For the “diehard” party supporter it's a time of passion and excitement (and possibly some small benefits). For the neutral onlooker, a Jamaican political race can often be annoying, perhaps distressing — and sometimes entertaining.
All of the above is true of the current by-election campaign taking place in a rural parish, which has national implications and added significance because of the one-seat majority of the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party in parliament.
Because so much hinges on it, party leaders have played an active role in the campaign, including the social media effort. Photos of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, with his jeans rolled up and bare feet, paddling across a small river, provoked much comment — amusement, praise, and some cynicism too.
The prime minister originally tweeted:
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) October 25, 2017
His party's candidate followed up with a somewhat cryptic message:
— Dr Norman Dunn (@DrNormanDunn) October 25, 2017
The same post on Facebook was shared over 1,800 times and received hundreds of comments, ranging from praise and delight to sarcasm.
The photographs were apparently a response to a video posted by the opposition People's National Party, showing candidate Dr. Shane Alexis arriving in the constituency in a helicopter:
Opposition leader Peter Phillips tweeted the video, which sparked questions from some cynical users about the state of the roads:
— Peter D Phillips (@PDPhillipsJa) October 21, 2017
This is not the first time that Jamaican politicians have symbolically got their feet wet in a river for campaigning purposes, as university lecturer Donna Hope pointed out on Facebook. She shared a photograph of former member of parliament for the constituency, Dr. Winston Green — who passed away suddenly, leaving the seat vacant — in a similar photo-op, quipping:
South East St. Mary politicking. Battle of the barefeet politicians on social media. High stakes. Your comments?
One commentator tweeted:
Who barefoot better? Campaigning for and with the people the Jamaican way.
— Jaevion Nelson (@jaevionn) October 26, 2017
Several commentators pointed out that the prime minister's post pointed to the lack of infrastructure in rural Jamaica. One regular Twitter user shared:
After Oct 30 whole ah unnu gone, di ppl dem still haffi guh wade thru river & unnu will lol about the times unnu did guh dem place deh.
— Empress Yolie (@jahmekyagyal) October 27, 2017
After October 30 all of you [politicians] will be gone and the people will still have to wade through a river; you will ‘lol’ about the times you went to those places.
Following an on-air discussion about how the publicity stunt was playing on social media, radio presenter Patria-Kay Aarons tweeted:
After you cross the river barefooted and feel the people's pain, your next move better be to give them a bridge!
— Patria-Kaye Aarons (@findpatria) October 26, 2017
So, who will win the October 30, 2017 by-election? It has been an eventful campaign, with many twists and turns. The constituency was won by the narrowest of margins — only five votes — in the last elections. With final mass rallies that took place over the weekend, some political pundits feel there may yet again be a close finish — now that the politicians have put their shoes back on.