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No Rowley backfiring to Yes, Dr Rowley

Published: 
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Helen Drayton

“Completely out of control,” “very very angry,” “no plan,” “no policy,” “temper tantrum fiasco,” “raging bull,” or call it anti-Rowley confetti.

Negative advertising sometimes works because it sticks to a person’s image. In product advertising, consumers usually have several options from which to choose, so it is difficult for a challenger to attack all opponents simultaneously. However, in politics, there are usually two main contenders and the aim is to cast one’s opponent in a bad light. Done suavely and in a receptive environment, it could be effective. It is an acceptable form of political campaigning to exploit a candidate’s weaknesses and convince the electorate that he or she is not fit for office. It crosses the boundary lines of ethics, good taste, and public tolerance when it contains lies, ascribes words a person never said, and when it is insensitive to large sections of society. Regardless of aesthetics or truthfulness, there is usually some support for these campaigns because of political polarisation.

The backdrop to the No-Rowley campaign is a mosaic of public disdain, uneasiness, fatigue with crime and corruption and the quality of governance. 

It comes just a few months after a government-applauded attempt in Parliament to stigmatise Dr Rowley. Instead, the minister who created the horror story slurred children born of rape. Public condemnation was swift and harsh.

The ill-conceived No-Rowley campaign has done nothing more than recalling that event and negative things associated with the PP.

Whether here or elsewhere, it is hard to think of past elections and not remember tricks by all parties ranging from humorous to outrageous to asinine and everything else in between. 

Traditional and social media commentators suggest that the current campaign straddles all these opinions. The PP also set new precedents by placing campaign posters in a supermarket and a school location. That deservedly backfired. Irrationally, the campaign makes nonsense of the millions of dollars the Government has spent promoting its achievements by relegating things it can boast about to the back burner.

Contrary to the ridicule intended of Dr Rowley’s mass transit idea, an advertisement depicts him as a benevolent-looking character in front of a train. It contradicts portrayals of him as an angry person. He looks as though he is telling the PP, “Hey idiots, you’re on a campaign train to nowhere.” The billboards suggesting he will cut education expenditure doesn't resonate because the public associate the PNM with free education and welfare benefits. In that regard, citizens had expected frugality of the PP administration, but those expectations were misplaced. Given economic uncertainty because of depressed oil prices, there is a view more so, among independent voters, the next administration should reduce expenditure on free tertiary education and focus on economic needs and programmes to support vulnerable people. The billboard message flies in the face of economic wisdom. No doubt, it is supposed to be a scare tactic to sway tertiary level students to return the PP to government. The PNM tried that in 2010 and it didn’t work.

Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house. The PNM strategists have much fodder for responses. They can make mass with real events. There will be no need to edit pictures of romance with a partner now wanted by the FBI, Prisongate, the illegal Flying Squad, six million dollars to remove a fire truck, the crooked Life Sport programme that is reverberating in unsettling ways, and Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, which would have caused the acquittal of campaign financiers accused of fraud. Those responses can’t be classified as campaign bacchanal. These are real government issues involving criminal activities that have a legitimate place on political platforms but in a thoughtful and constructive way, rather than the foolishness of a drunken woman in a yellow dress, and swamp and cesspit narrative. The real election issue is governance.

Getting back to the “raging bull” characterisation and other unflattering descriptions of Dr Rowley, these emerged from the PNM administration internal fallout over Udecott. Last week, one blogger said he was a raging bull against Udecott’s corruption and that is what the country needs now. People are comparing the adverse labelling of him with Government’s stewardship of five years of real and perceived non-stop corruption, and scandal after scandal.

Prior to the last election, the public roasted prime minister Patrick Manning and his government over its 20/20 strategies including mega-projects and just about everything else. That was the backdrop to the 2010 election. The PP’s negative campaign worked in that context. Five years later, there is widespread disenchantment, feelings of fear, and continuous assault on the integrity of the PP administration. Criticisms emanating from the kinds of events mentioned earlier are as legitimate as the No-Rowley campaign is a foolish one. Political advertising doesn’t work in a vacuum but in the context of culture, performance, and the overall environment. It is why the No-Rowley campaign is backfiring to Yes, Dr Rowley.

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