Navigating the JLP’s dilemma
It seems apparent from his prostrating apology at church last Sunday that Andrew Holness has foreclosed on his right of appeal against the Constitutional Court's ruling in the Arthur Williams Senate issue.
That, to us, is surprising. For, on the face of it, there are potentially appealable issues in this matter, especially regarding the application of cited authorities to the Williams case, which the opposition leader could subject to two rungs of review.
Mr Holness, however, appears to be making an understandable political calculation, which he must execute with skill and maturity if he is to maintain his credibility as leader of the JLP and for the party not to descend deeper into acrimony, with a deleterious impact on Jamaica's democracy.
But this task belongs not only to Mr Holness. It will also require reasonableness and compromise on the part of some of those who continue to oppose his leadership.
The genesis of this latest crisis in the party, it is recalled, was Audley Shaw's challenge for the leadership of the party, which Mr Holness won, but without, it seems, having firmly placed his imprimatur on the JLP. In other words, his leadership is far from unquestioned.
It was, in part, an attempt to firm up his shaky leadership that landed Mr Holness in his current troubles. Attempting to ensure loyalty to his programme, Mr Holness requested the resignation of the eight senators he caused to be appointed. Mr Williams and Christopher Tufton refused. It turned out that Mr Holness had in his possession pre-signed, undated letters of resignation, including from Messrs Williams and Tufton, plus the authority to use them - which he did.
It also turned out that Mr Williams was the architect and author of these letters, whose constitutionality he subsequently challenged. The court agreed with him, holding, as Justice McDonald Bishop put it, that the letters represented a nonsensical scheme that was "contrary to the letter, intent, and spirit of the Constitution as it relates to the manner in which a Senate seat may be rendered vacant by resignation".
Even in the absence of a formal order from the court that they vacate their seats, it is obvious that the membership of the Upper House by Nigel Clarke and Ruel Reid, who Mr Holness appointed to replace Messrs Williams and Tufton, is now untenable unless either, or both, argue that they were appointed by a proper constitutional process.
negotiated solution necessary
That, in the circumstance, would be bad for the JLP and Jamaica. A negotiated solution is necessary, starting with the premise, unless the party is prepared for a long period of instability, that Mr Holness is the elected leader, chosen by the majority of the delegates.
Further, it would have to be appreciated by Messrs Williams and Tufton that their return to the Senate in the existing circumstance would also be untenable. That would signal, by implication and in fact, a weakening of Mr Holness' authority as leader of the party, unsure, if not incapable, of setting its direction. Indeed, there would be uncertainty surrounding the trust that he could repose in either man to pursue policies in which Mr Holness invested.
Therefore, having been 'vindicated' by the court, Messrs Williams and Tufton should now officially resign from the Senate and allow Mr Holness to make appointments of his choice. At the same time, the party's grandees should continue quiet efforts in the background to heal the wounds.