Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial: PNP must be thoughtful on leadership

Published:Thursday | March 17, 2016 | 3:06 AM

It is indeed curious that it was Phillip Paulwell who convened a meeting of the People's National Party (PNP) parliamentary group in the absence of the PNP's leader Portia Simpson Miller, to discuss the party's potential strategy in the new legislature.

Mr Paulwell said he did so in his role as Leader of Opposition business in the House. But he can't be surprised if people interpreted his move as part of a broader strategy of advancing his case for the leadership the PNP in the post-Simpson Miller era, whenever that occurs. And whether it was the case or not, he would have left the impression that he acted at least with Mrs Simpson Miller's tacit approval.

Mr Paulwell has made no secret that he, like others, harbours ambitions of leading the PNP. Nothing is wrong with that. But they should be wary of pre-emptive strikes in this early post-election period that might result in a leadership campaign that is consumed by personality and absence of serious debate of the kind of organisation that the future PNP ought to be.

The PNP lost the government less than a month ago in an extremely close contest after four years in office in which it administered a tough austerity programme that reversed Jamaica's fast-moving upward trajectory of debt and stabilized the economy. Understandably, there are recriminations over whom, or what caused the defeat, and more generally, the future of the party. The PNP has named a broad-based task force to review the campaign strategy and outcomes, but the group is expected to employ a wider interpretation to their brief.

In the meantime, Mrs Simpson Miller, the PNP president for a decade, remains at the helm. Unless she resigns or loses the support of the majority of the PNP's parliamentary party, she is expected to make shadow cabinet and similar appointments. Insofar as we are aware she has, at least not publicly, named Mr Paulwell Leader of Opposition business. In which case, there is need for clarification of on what basis he "decided that I would ask the colleagues in the Lower House to join me to look at a number of things related to Parliament". Mrs Simpson Miller was absent from the meeting because of illness.

 

THE NATURAL SUCCESSOR

 

It would seem to us that in the absence of the appointment of shadow ministers, and therefore, no clarity on portfolios on which Opposition parliamentarians will speak, Mr Paulwell's meeting, even if authorised by the leader, was ill-advised. In a potentially fragile time like this it had the potential for sending the wrong political signal.

If the PNP had won the general election, there would be no issue. Mrs Simpson Miller would continue as prime minister and presumably retire at a time deemed appropriate for herself and in the best interest of her party. But she is 70 and with an election constitutionally five years away, the issue of transition is rightly concentrating the minds of many in the party.

Should Mrs Simpson Miller go now, the natural successor would be Peter Phillips, the finance minister who marshaled the economy through deep uncertainty and is engaged in a deep intellectual discourse on Jamaica's future. But should the party decide it needs someone closer in age to Prime Minister Andrew Holness to compete with the Jamaica Labour Party, Dr Phillip may not be the choice. These issue require serious thought rather than precipitate action.