Fri | Aug 18, 2017

An open letter to Comrades

Published:Monday | March 7, 2016 | 3:00 AMMichael Abrahams

The People’s National Party (PNP) has a rich and distinguished history. Founded in 1938 by the brilliant Norman Washington Manley, it is the oldest political party in the English-speaking Caribbean, providing Jamaica with the first prime minister to win three consecutive elections (P.J. Patterson) and our first female prime minister (Portia Simpson Miller), while winning seven elections since our independence in 1962.
But today, the party needs a facelift, a tummy tuck and an enema. In other words, it requires a new look, removal of baggage, and the flushing out of unprogressive elements. The PNP took a beating not just at the polls, but also in the court of public opinion. The image of Norman Manley’s beloved party has been tarnished, with the organisation becoming a target of ridicule mainly as a result of its bizarre, disorganised and frivolous campaign.
The party may have lost the election, but it is by no means a party of losers. Under the PNP government, there was progress. Eleven IMF tests have been passed; our stock market was the best performer globally last year, surging more than 80 per cent; and Fitch Ratings Agency upgraded our long-term foreign and local currency issue ratings to ‘B-’, from ‘B’.
Not surprisingly, there is increasing investor confidence in Jamaica, with the country moving up five places, to be ranked 59th out of 144 nations, in the 2015 Forbes Best Countries for Business Report, making it the top country in the Caribbean with which to do business.
Tourism is also booming, with a record 3.7 million tourist visits to the island last year. Total visitors grew by 5.3 per cent over the prior year, as stopover arrivals increased by 2.1 per cent to 2.1 million travellers, and cruise arrivals rose by 10.2 per cent to 1.6 million passengers. Food imports are also down, with data showing the value for January to May 2015 to be US$366 million, down 10 per cent from the US$407 million worth of food imported during the equivalent period in the previous year.
Unfortunately, instead of highlighting its successes, the party, inexplicably, chose to embark on a campaign seeped in negativity, launching a smear campaign directed at then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, which magnificently backfired in their faces. The margin of victory may have been slim in terms of actual votes or seat count, but to have lost 11 seats in the election is a stinging blow that warrants urgent introspection.
Party President Portia Simpson Miller, Campaign Director Dr Peter Phillips and General Secretary Paul Burke, among others, must share the blame for their disastrous campaign. But Mrs Simpson Miller, being the leader, must take the ultimate responsibility, as the buck stops with her. She has had a distinguished career in politics, spanning four decades, but the time has come for her to step aside.
Her failure to hold incompetent and irresponsible party members accountable, coupled with her avoidance of the media and the populace, and her unwillingness or inability to lead confidently from in front has not inspired confidence from the populace.
It has become apparent that the campaign strategy was not a collective decision, but one made by the party hierarchy, as several candidates have indicated that they were not in agreement with the tactics employed. There are hard and diligent workers in the PNP, and the loss has interrupted the stellar work that some of them had been performing in their respective ministries.
The party sorely needs fresh ideas. If you observe the victorious Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidates, you will see many young faces. The PNP needs to rid itself of the dinosaurs in its midst and infuse itself with new blood. Dinosaurs are not necessarily persons who are up in age, as many older folk are quite sharp and possess remarkable mental acuity and agility. It refers rather to those who cling to outdated and ineffective modi operandi and refuse to progress with the times.
A glaring example of this is the party’s refusal to embrace and take advantage of social media. The Jamaica Labour Party annihilated them in that department. JLP candidates were much more visible than their PNP counterparts on social-media platforms during the weeks leading up to the election, sharing information about their plans and interacting with their supporters. Using social media was not an option for JLP candidates; it was mandatory, and was a deliberate strategy.
So, Comrades, if you truly love your party, you must agitate for change. Blind loyalty to political leaders is not in the best interest of the party. You must demand new leadership. You must also demand accountability from those who represent you.
Encourage your fellow Comrades to utilise social media and engage one another and the populace. Avoid propaganda and partisan mud-slinging, and, instead, direct your energy to formulate new ideas to strengthen your party. Support the useful policies of our present Government and wish it success, because if our Government fails, our country fails. But simultaneously observe them closely and speak out vociferously if they misstep. The country needs not only a strong Government, but also a unified and vigilant Opposition if we are to progress as a nation.

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.