Interview with Jean Lowrie-Chin

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By Alexander Britell

Jean Lowrie-Chin is one of Jamaica’s leading media experts, having founded public relations firm PROComm and created the Jamaica Gleaner’s Flair magazine. Lowrie Chin is also a veteran political analyst, having been a columnist for the Jamaica Observer since 2001. With Jamaica’s election now just 17 days away, CJ Politics talked to Lowrie-Chin to learn more about the major issues in the upcoming vote, the changing role of women in Jamaican politics and what the deciding factor will be when Jamaicans step into the ballot box this year.

What are the major issues you see in Jamaica’s election this year?

Well I think the major issue is unemployment. People are very concerned about unemployment, and of course that is linked to the economy. Jamaica has an agreement with the IMF, but there has been no recent discussion with them, because I guess we are now in an election mode, we’re in a little suspense right now. So there is this feeling that we’re going to have to — the Prime Minister actually said it, in his big address last Sunday when he announced the [election] date – he said we’re going to have to take some medicine. So we take that to believe that we’re going to really tighten our belts.

How are the two parties doing right now?

Well, the two parties are not doing badly. Of course, it is always harder for the incumbent, because they are the ones who are in the hot seat. But I think that, because they were able to record slight growth this year, I think [the JLP] have that to talk about. They can also talk about the fact that the dollar has been relatively stable since 2007. So I think they are both making good arguments about the economy, and I do believe that Jamaicans – because we have Jamaicans everywhere in the world – the Diaspora is so huge – I do believe we are aware that this is not just a local issue. It is an international issue.

What are the biggest trends you see playing out in the next few weeks?

They say a day is a long time in politics, and our political ombudsman said in an interview last week that the number of complaints that he had seen from both political parties are more than he had received even than in 2002. So what we are picking up is that it is a tight race, and the polls are telling us that too. They have a very slight lead for the PNP, but with a margin of error of 4 percent; it’s almost neck-and-neck. Because of that, there is a lot of aggressive campaigning going on, and you know, Jamaicans are very steeped in the democratic process. Our campaigning is pure theater, with the flags, the music, the DJ, the speeches – but you can really see that people are campaigning very fiercely to get those precious votes.

 

I think it’s about how well the two parties communicate their manifestos, how well they engage with the public. It’s also about how well they use all types of media – not just traditional media, but social media. There are 600,000 Jamaicans on Facebook.

 

What kind of impact did the transition from Bruce Golding to Andrew Holness have on the election? Did it give the JLP a boost?

The polls show that the JLP got a boost. Because before Holness was appointed as the new leader, they were 20 points behind, and now they are almost neck-and-neck, which means that gave a significant boost to the JLP since Holness’ appointment.

What is going to be the deciding factor for voters in this election?

Well, I think these three weeks leading up to elections are going to be so important. I think it’s about how well the two parties communicate their manifestos, how well they engage with the public. It’s also about how well they use all types of media – not just traditional media, but social media. There are 600,000 Jamaicans on Facebook. It’s also about being on the ground – I think it’s going to be about on the ground organizing and strong communication policy. Why do I say that? Because just this past week, one party was saying the media was not being neutral enough, not being balanced enough. Of course, the media started to feel concerned about this, so they put out a release to say that this was endangering their reporters who were on the beat, on the political beat. So I think it’s going to be very important that our politicians message clearly and strongly and that they do a little bit more professional management of their communication plans.

There are a number of female candidates running this year; recently, a group called the 51 Percent Coalition launched, aiming to improve the number of female politicians in Jamaica. How do you see the role of women in politics changing in Jamaica?

Well, I’m one of the supporters of the 51 Percent Coalition. I think it is a very important move that we have more women going as candidates to the polls this year. The JLP has 13 female candidates, and the PNP has 5, led by the Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller. I think that is so important for our policy making in this country. All the research has found that some of our basic social problems are caused by the poverty of our women, who are left to raise their children, and with all the risks that opens them to.

We saw some issues in the Guyanese elections last month. How would you describe the electoral system in Jamaica?

I think Jamaica’s electoral process has evolved into one of the safest, most secure systems in the world. And people have actually come here to study our systems. For example, we have a system called EVIVIS, and it’s an electronic voter-identification system where you put your finger on the machine, and the machine has to read your fingerprint before it releases a ballot for you. And that is going to be used in several of those constituencies where the political parties feel that there may be some voter intimidation. So because of that, we have a full-proof system. You can’t have people stealing votes or voting in other persons’ names, because of that machine. And remember too, our whole electoral process is overseen by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica. Now the commission is made up of independent members of the PNP and the JLP, so they all have a voice in how our elections are run, and how our systems are put in place.

 

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