Pushing and pulling Portia
If there is one pattern that has emerged in what may yet turn out to be just the first chapter of this election campaign season, that pattern can best be described by one word: uncertainty.
A few months ago, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was jumping all over itself and daring Portia to call the election. At that time, the JLP knew that the talk was only for public consumption because much of its state of readiness for elections was very badly off kilter.
It seemed as if the Opposition had secretly stolen away 'Prophet' Phinn from Portia and he had told them something. He had presaged that the second law of thermodynamics would have its political moment in the People's National Party (PNP) administration (the dead babies scandal following the chik-V outbreak in 2014 and, somewhat recently, Cameron's national insult of a prison offer) and in the PNP itself (intra-party instability at constituency).
Yes, indeed, all things, no matter how good-looking they appear to be, tend towards entropy. Milk left out of the fridge turns sour. The handsome young stud, given enough time, becomes old and flabby around the middle. Political administrations can promise accountability and transparency all they want but, given enough time, even less than a full term, the cohesiveness or pretence at it becomes exposed and they begin to fall apart.
Entropy for the layman, and who best to see it happening than the JLP, which sped up its own entropy in 2009 and 2010.
About a month ago, the PNP bigwigs met with a political adviser and, armed with data, led the party from prognosis to diagnosis. The end result? It would be risky to call an election this year. Then just recently, they met again with the independent adviser. The advice moved from 'too risky to call' to 'don't call it.'
With the JLP now jumping up and prancing again, that party has not presented the potential electors with any tangible and believable solutions to the upsurge in violent crime, the perennial breakdown in the public health system, funding education beyond political gimmickry, and creating jobs for school leavers.
The fact is, the JLP does not have to do that to win an election. Recent polls have indicated a swing away from the PNP, but all of that swing has not gone to the JLP. The full meaning of that is potential voters have not yet bought the JLP porridge and we are likely to see a lower-than-usual turnout if the JLP cannot close the case.
PETER PHILLIPS MAY
EMERGE THE WINNER
Portia is squarely in the middle and the two factions inside her party have their own agenda. What must the poor lady do as she is pulled and pushed in the PNP and must also listen to a much more upbeat JLP daring her to embark on a treacherous journey?
Consider this scenario. The International Monetary Fund has shaved a quarter-point from the primary surplus target, and unless the PNP administration can renegotiate the four-year agreement in its last year (very unlikely), it appears that the Government has used up all of its get-out-of-jail cards.
This means that in the 2016-2017 financial year, pension reform will kick in, a drastic tax reform will have to grow teeth, and, horror of horrors, public-sector 'transformation' (sending home thousands of civil servants) will have to be instituted.
Any administration that is in power at that time will be facing unrest at the national level as the Opposition party sucks into the restiveness and slowly works its way into escalating it. Election this year could solve that problem for the PNP.
How would that work? First, the prime minister may not get the opportunity to go out in a burst of glory, that is, win an election then retire at her own leisure. But before we even get to that, calling election this year and before Christmas will certainly exclude the additional 37,000 people that went out of their way at the last minute to get enumerated and added to the voters' list.
How will the PNP Government make the moral case for that exclusion? Even with that, let us assume that the PNP takes the view that political expediency is more important that a national imperative, calls an early election, and loses it.
That means that Portia will not have her P.J. Patterson moment. At 70 years old and slowing down, I could not see her coming back into the mainstream of PNP leadership after that. Who knows, it is possible that she may lay the blame for the loss at the feet of Dr Peter Phillips, who, I gather, is all for an election this year.
So 2017 rolls around and the JLP is in power. Civil servants are sent home as a main plank of what Holness had said was 'bitter medicine'. The little increase in salaries granted will be wiped out via pension reform as they will now be required to actively participate.
The anger builds and it forces the PNP opposition to hit the road. Terms like 'heartless' and 'wicked' will be used to describe the JLP government and the PNP will egg on the people, the unions and all who have two legs to take to the streets. In less than a year, it is entirely plausible that a JLP government, under immense pressure, could be forced to call elections in its effort to seek ratification and authenticity.
What is likely to happen should the JLP lose and who would be the person that would stand to gain the most from the complex process? Not Portia, who would have been remembered as the person who led the PNP to its first-ever one-term loss.
It is more than likely that 'the last man standing' politically would be Peter Phillips, who would then have attached to his name the term 'prime minister'.
Do you see it as far-fetched? At present, the pro-next year faction in the PNP is scared of losing cushy positions. Left up to them, they would go beyond the full distance to 2017.
Is JLP ever without a new plot brewing?
It seems not so long ago, January it was, that there was the scandal alleging that people in the JLP had paid money to assassinate the JLP leader, Andrew Holness. Eventually, it all turned out to be a hoax, with one Maxie Robinson getting a moderate stretch in prison for the national mischief.
As the matter swirled and the names of important politicians in the JLP were besmirched, my investigations uncovered the names of two other JLP operatives, one from way back in the 1980s, who were main links in the whole fabrication plot. Why did the police not also hold those two troublemakers?
As the Devon Wint matter in West Central St Catherine emerged, I began to speak to various people in the JLP and in the constituency.
One delegate from the constituency contacted me and told me that I had written some 'wrongs' about the Tufton-Wint matter.
"Most delegates and party workers did not want Tufton in West Central. I did not want Wint either, but eventually sided with him and campaigned fully against Tufton."
As the record will show, West Central St Catherine has always supported whomever is the JLP leader and the seat went big for Andrew Holness in the leadership race with Audley Shaw.
"So what is it about Wint that has caused this new development?" I asked.
"The hardest-working set of delegates supported Wint. After Tufton lost to Wint, many of those who supported Tufton were still operating as if the contest was not over."
"So what happens after this?" I asked another delegate.
"Mr Wheatley is the one begging us to keep calm and not do anything to embarrass the party, but wi vex bad because the youth don't deserve that treatment."
I would like to believe that Dr Christopher Tufton has simply lucked into the seat by way of the 'bad luck' which has befallen Wint. To the JLP hierarchy, it is like a godsend.
- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.