Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Portia figures she needs no debate to win

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Audley Shaw greets supporters at the Jamaica Labour Party meeting in Junction, St Elizabeth, on February 4. Shaw's seat is under attack by the PNP, says columnist Mark Wignall, and he might have to fight hard to stave off a wipeout of his nearly 600-vote majority achieved in 2011.

Buoyed by the cancellation of sanity and civility that are requirements of an election campaign season, a war of words has resulted in the prime minister withdrawing from debating the opposition leader.

While I am a firm supporter of decency from the political podium, political leaders and those constituency aspirants dispersed throughout the island must know that politics is a contact sport. There will be biting words from the platform and, of course, there will be massive overreaches such as the opposition leader referring to gang shootings at his Sam Sharpe Square meeting as "an act of terror" and a "barefaced and heartless attack on the democratic process".

Although I would not have chosen to refer to the PM in the term which Holness used, the people are quite aware that Holness' party, the JLP, and the one led by the PM, the PNP, have systematically carried the people wide for many decades. There is a word for that.

Shored up by polls showing her party ahead, it was good politics for her to use Holness' fighting words targeting the PNP's failure to live up to its leader's promises. Our prime minister does not naturally want to debate; nor is she as comfortable in, or welcoming of, one as, say, a bright law student would relish such interactions.

Why face a debate where she would have to answer for her many instances of absence for pressing national matters that needed her open intervention? The way the prime minister figures it, what matters most are not the stumbles of the recent past, but her present electoral advantage over a Holness-led JLP.

Added to that is the likelihood that the majority of those making up the electorate are not swayed by public debate. Even more painful is the possibility and likelihood that the minority who would be influenced by debate performances are 'independents' and are not likely to vote.

A main question is, why does Andrew Holness not know the traps for him that his own mouth may be setting? All the PM needed was one harsh criticism which, in her estimation, bordered on blasphemy and an affront to her reign since 2011.

Now that she has done us the real favour of showing up just in time to snatch the election once again from a hapless Andrew Holness, she has drawn attention to herself and it is driving the opposition leader into all sorts of political conniptions.

The JLP's 10-point plan must not be debated until the party gives substance and explanations to its bullet points. Then it must be tackled - and rigorously so - by the PNP and other interests.

But now that his own mouth has provided Portia locking herself out of the debate process, is there some demand that we, the people, can make to force the PM and president of the PNP to the debate table?

The suggestion by president of the PSOJ, William Mahfood, that private-sector funders withdraw from pumping money into the political campaign of the PNP is morally sound, but, in political terms, the funders know an election is on and they will want to hitch their wagon to the rising star.

 

PNP and Holness' house

 

"We have been looking at his house since 2013," said the PNP source. "All he had to do was shut his mouth and behave himself. Now he has overstepped his bounds, questions must be asked and answered."

"So it was done out of sheer politics?" I said.

"Listen, I am only one faction, so I can't tell you what are the motivations of the others."

Jamaica has its many puzzlements. A policeman or a lower-level civil servant earning $1.5 million per year will construct or purchase a house costing $35 million and it will not attract more than a few stares. It is not natural that it will trigger the authorities to ask simple questions such as, where did he get his funding and by what means?

Going by poll results, it appears that Holness and the JLP are against the ropes, and, with the PNP requesting that the opposition leader answer pointed questions on his construction of a huge mansion in the prime real estate area of Beverly Hills, even those who believe it is not a negative against Holness will want those questions answered.

It's called human nature; curiosity. At the same time, this begs us to ask the PNP the following: If your party is ahead in the polls and you are confident of another win, why tackle Holness' house when previous polls have indicated that he had earned no negatives from it?

Well, maybe that question has already been answered. There have always been rumours of certain politicians acquiring real-estate dreams here and abroad. Much of it may be questionable, and some may also be above board. This is as good a time as any to end the speculation and call on all who are seeking elected office to make their declarations before the election.

It is a mandate that has no teeth and the implication that could be drawn from the lack of pressure on those constantly failing to declare is frightening. We need to be assured that no cabal is formed to protect those who have something to hide.

Two questions asked by the PNP are important. "How was this purchase and the construction of the house financed, recognising that there is no mortgage registered on the title?"

The other is: "Was the source of funds for the purchase of the land, and the cost of building the house included in any integrity report, which all public officials are required to submit annually?"

These are questions that are worth answering. To bring weight to the PNP's position, it should ensure that all those on the PNP side are compatible. Is the PNP prepared to make such a declaration even as it attempts to paste Opposition Leader Andrew Holness on the signpost of history called also-ran?

 

Warmington deserves a loss; Walford in trouble

 

If ever there was a candidate in any party who deserves a big fat loss at the February 25 election, that person ought to be the JLP's Everald Warmington.

When he won his South West St Catherine seat again in 2011, he did so by 916 votes. That win, as well as the previous others, have empowered him to be nurtured by the JLP as one of the most disliked politicians in Jamaica. His outbursts in Parliament and bouts of disrespect shown to journalists are now legendary, but with no reprimand from the leadership of the JLP, he continues in the same vein as if he answers to no one but himself.

In fact, the lack of reprimand indicates that he is an untouchable because of his repeated wins.

A few weeks ago, when I spoke with PNP challenger Ruddy Mears, he said, "I am going to do for the JLP what it could not do for itself. I am going to remove him from Parliament."

On Friday when I spoke with Mears again, he confessed that with Warmington's many wins, his face is not as well known as Warmington's because of the very fact of his constant outbursts.

"I have not allowed that to get me down, and I am working and walking through the constituency, road by road, lane by lane, house to house."

He said, "In a speech I gave to Comrades recently, while criticising Warmington and trying to show my basic vision, I said, 'If you have a big mouth, you should use it to speak to the advancement of your constituents and not to disrespect people'."

In South West St Ann, the PNP's Keith Walford will be having a tougher job on his hand this time around to defend his 822-vote majority. The JLP's Zavia Mayne will be gunning for him, and even some PNP contacts at the constituency level confess to me that it will be an uphill task for Walford.

"Even the nomination day crowds of Mayne looked more impressive, and you know that I place significant value on these crowds as indicative of party fever and readiness, especially in rural areas.

"I told you that the nomination day crowd in Audley Shaw's constituency was much less than in 2011 and 2007. Something is up, and I have not ruled out an Audley Shaw loss."

My scepticism was obvious as I laughed. "Surely, you do not believe that JLP party central would just sit back and allow the PNP to snatch the North East Manchester seat from Shaw without a spirited fight. He has been Man a Yaad since 1993."

"Just as how I have admitted that our man Walford is in a little trouble against Mayne, so is it going to be difficult for Shaw to retain his seat on a 573-vote majority in 2011.

"The JLP is taking the fight to us in South West St Ann. We are taking it to them in North East Manchester, and watch out for Ruddy Mears against Warmington."

n Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.