Wed | Aug 23, 2017

After bruising war of words, is debate still possible?

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2016 | 2:01 AM

Prior to the unprecedented politically violent years of 1976 to 1980, the PNP was seen to be the more cerebral of the two main political parties in Jamaica.

Its supporters and the leadership were more philosophically and ideologically grounded, and the middle class was fully on board with the PNP. After the 1980 election, all of that was turned on its head as those in the middle class who had not fled to the USA or Canada voted overwhelmingly in favour of the JLP.

The PNP that exists today is vastly different. It has pulled away from its philosophical moorings and in the 36 years since the middle class went all in for the JLP, that significant slice of the social spectrum has pretty much withdrawn from voting, allowing the PNP its domination at the polls since the JLP lost in 1989.

Two constituencies stand out as bastions of JLP middle-class support. They are North Central St Andrew, held by the JLP's Karl Samuda, and North East St Andrew, held by the JLP's Delroy Chuck. In those constituencies are found some of the wealthiest Jamaicans.

Although their numbers may be small relative to the rest of the population, many of the movers and shakers in business and those who express outsize social influence in important 'uptown' forums live in Kingston 6, 8 and sections of Kingston 19.

Many among the black-skinned entrepreneurial class who broke the barrier into the types of businesses traditionally held by the brown-skinned business elite rose to their peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, also lived in those geographical areas, but were destroyed by the high interestrate policy of the PNP regime of the mid-1990s.

They were finally decimated by the ticking time bomb of FINSAC.

To many in the PNP, pressure is being brought to bear on that party from uptowners in Kingston 6, 8 and 19 where the thought processes of the middle- and upper-middle class residents are 180 degrees from those who are frequent voters, but who exist in inner-city pockets two minutes away from uptown affluence.

As far as the PNP is concerned, if those uptowners have their way, the national debates would be back on the front burner, and the residents there would relish the opportunity to sit in front of their television sets and crack jokes about Portia muffing her responses. And the PNP is certain that even if just one of her responses should come with cerebral refinement, they would still laugh at her.

And the likelihood is they would either not vote or, if they should, it would be for the JLP.

In a choice between a war of words in the present political campaign and the war of arson in 1976 and the gun in 1980, it is a no-brainer that we are at a better place in campaigning than we were in those traumatic and bloody years.

Now that the JLP has fired off its salvo of words in an attempt to shed more light on Andrew Holness' acquisition of his mansion which was always going to be fair game for the PNP in an election campaign, a ball, a cutter has been bowled to the finance minister.

The opposition leader has, however, foolishly telegraphed his intention to resuscitate FINSAC in any debate that should occur. That is simply more fuel given to the PNP to back away from a debate.

The two things the PNP would like to pretend did not happen is the financial meltdown of the mid-1990s and the Trafigura 'gift' to the PNP in 2006. One of the most heartless aspects of the FINSAC experience is that the clock on interest rates was never turned off.

The PNP has gambled that the voting Jamaican is not interested in FINSAC. Sadly, it may well be right. The PNP has also used fancy footwork to avoid answering questions on the Trafigura donation of 2006.

In a sane polity (unlike what is taking place in the slugfest of debates among those seeking the nomination in the GOP in the USA) those in the PNP who have been beating their chests at successes in international ratings ought to be jumping at the chance to explain to the people of this country the next step towards real job creation.

But the ruling party has convinced itself that the lower the voter turnout, the better its chances of swamping the JLP. As far as the PNP is concerned, it doesn't need those uptown votes.

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