Sat | Sep 23, 2017

The dangerous cult of party politics

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2016 | 3:00 AM
The PNP's Peter Bunting: Could he be the next party leader?

It is there on social media and it exists at community level. "Mi a PNP and mi know sey JLP a fi rich people," said the young man who had stopped at a community shop while on his way to a construction site.

As he spoke further, another youngster who was a budding entertainer but also did odd jobs on construction sites let loose his own ideas of the political system. "Mi never vote fi none a dem yet and dem will never get my vote."

As I left, the People's National Party (PNP) supporter and another who said he voted Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were in heated discussions about which party cared more for the poor.

To track social-media sites since the February 25 election, it is easy to conclude that the JLP won and has been in office for about six months. Every single move of the JLP administration has suspicion attached to it, and PNP supporters are seemingly aching for the Government to fail and fall flat on its face.

The fact that social-media sites are a hotbed of back-and-forth does not make it any easier to see information as fact where much of it is opinion on steroids, specifically designed to evangelise along party lines.

While the nation can be proud that Jamaica changed a political administration and it happened without people lying dead in the streets, it ought to be stated that a lot of anger still boils in the blood of many of those who supported the PNP.

The last time the PNP lost was in 2007, and we can remember Portia ungraciously promising to be the JLP's worst nightmare. This time around, one gets the impression that the PNP politicians have accepted the loss, but the same cannot be said of their supporters, who are acting as if their deity has been crucified.

All of this tells me that the Andrew Holness administration will not be given a half-chance to make an ounce of a mistake. The same seething anger among those at street level and documented on social media prior to, and during, the election campaign that some believe assisted in taking the PNP down is operative, but already it is aimed in the other direction by disgruntled PNP supporters whose party is chapter and verse of their political bible.

Last week, two young men standing by a roadside stall admitted to me that they voted PNP and were vexed that some of their PNP friends and family did not show up to vote for the party. As we spoke, we were joined by a community member who had never made it a secret that he is a lifetime supporter of the JLP.

One of the PNP supporters said to him, "Yu si all this stall yah. Watch Desmond McKenzie in a di next few weeks. Him a go mash this down! JLP don't like fi si poor people live, so dem will all mash down dem own poor people ting."

 

PNP LEADERSHIP DISQUIET

 

As the dust settles and formal assessments are made as to what brought about the shock PNP loss, it is obvious that there will be those in the second-tier ranks who will be emboldened to openly challenge Portia for leadership of the PNP.

As I got word last week that more than a few had been lining up and forming exploratory committees, the youth arms were also doing their realignment. Portia loyalists like Raymond Pryce and the mercurial Damion Crawford were somewhat freed from their tether, as others stepped in to brace for the obvious shifting of power at the top.

Central Manchester member of parliament and former national security minister, Peter Bunting, would obviously be one of those who would believe that now is as good as any to make his ultimate ambition be known: that of becoming PNP president.

It is standard among our political parties that the old leadership send out signals that 'there is no vacancy', especially when it is obvious that the second-tier leadership is aiming much higher.

It is not a secret that Phillip Paulwell is the choice of PNP President Portia Simpson Miller. Having led the party to its shock defeat of February 25, the strength of that connection cannot be seen as in former years. It is now a weak link.

While there would be those in the PNP who would want to endow the former prime minister with added respect, especially now that she needs added commiseration for the recent loss, the fact is, a loss is not the same as a win. A leader who just lost an election gives to those whom she once blessed and drew close to her an automatic kiss of death.

In that light, the aura of Phillip Paulwell grows dim. One PNP insider said to me last week as we spoke of a likely challenge from Peter Bunting, "He cannot be seen as an outsider anymore, and if he runs, he is likely to win."

I said to him, "You also told me prior to the election that Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness would be losing their seats, so why should I believe you now?"

"Good point," he said. "I was simply feeding you propaganda as a loyal PNP supporter who wanted to make the JLP look bad. The fact is, when it comes to internal elections, it is the candidate who has the most connections with big business who has the best chance of winning. Plus, you know how the delegates stay."

"So, where is Peter Phillips in all of this? None of the other leadership contenders has his accomplishments. His big stint at the finance ministry. His de facto role as 'prime minister'. Surely, he would be seen as a winner there."

"Tell that to the delegates," he said. "Think about it. We just lost an election. Once the contenders are lined up, the delegates are not going to go back to that team they see as losers, so I believe they would be looking for a fresher face. Plus, as I said before, there are other more practical considerations that move political delegates. You know exactly what I mean."

 

IS ZIKV STILL ON THE RADAR?

 

Last week, as I stood by a small shop in a rural town square in St Catherine, just across the fence was a pile of plastic bottles, some sealed, while the majority were opened and had water in them.

It seemed that the shopkeeper had used it as a dump for the bottles, the scourge of 21st-century living.

While I was there, I saw a young man drink a Boom and then throw it across the fence. The pile attracted others to add to it. It would be bad enough had he screwed on the top, but the cover was thrown in the street and the bottle flung on the pile.

No amount of Government action on Zika virus can control the action of our people who believe that it is OK to discard their rubbish anywhere.

Although the JLP has come to office with no sympathy points stored up for it, the Government must resist the temptation to be soft on policy, especially where it hinges on public health. On the assumption that it will occupy public office for its entire five-year term, the JLP administration must do the necessary but unpleasant policy moves earlier instead of later.

The anti-litter law is in place, but it is hardly ever policed. With Zika virus looming, that has to change.

Men exit bars to smoke and, when they are finished, the remains of the cigarette are thrown in the streets. Children suck on their bag juice and the empty bag is thrown over a fence. It is obvious that many homes and schools have fallen down on teaching these basics that were once taught when I was a child.

Well, the State will have to deal with those who need to feel the full brunt of the law. In the JLP administration of 2007 to 2011, Desmond McKenzie, as local government minister, was not the most popular man. He had the unenviable task of ripping up unregulated roadside vending, and there were some in the JLP who 'credited' him with assisting in the JLP's loss in 2011 because of the tough stance he took with roadside vending.

That tough stance needs to be revisited on the anti-litter law. Security Minister Bobby Montague recognises the crucial role his ministry plays in creating a climate amenable to investment and commerce.

The same mutuality exists between the health ministry and local government. Desmond McKenzie will have to deal with many more people disliking him again. The anti-litter law is there. He and Minister Montague need to put teeth into the law before the Zika virus mosquito puts its 'teeth' into us.

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