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Editorial | PNP shouldn’t fear foment

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Peter Bunting has made no secret of his ambition to lead the People's National Party (PNP) and his willingness, if she is deemed to be overstaying her time, of challenging the incumbent president, Portia Simpson Miller.

In the meantime, parliamentarians and former Cabinet ministers, Wykeham McNeill and Lisa Hanna last week declared that they will be candidates for two of the party's four vice-presidential positions at its annual conference in September. Fitz Jackson, another long-time MP, says he will run for the chairman's job, hoping to replace Robert Pickersgill, who has been in the post for nearly a quarter-century and shows no signs that he wants to leave.

Those selections will be made by the PNP's National Executive Council (NEC). At the constituency level, too, people are jockeying for positions as part of a broader building of alliances and strategic partnerships. There is also an emerging debate of what kind of party the PNP has become and what it ought to be.

Or, looked at another way, the party is in a state of foment, which, understandably, is discomfiting for many among the PNP leadership and supporters, who believe such public displays of discord to be the remit of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and fear for the future of the PNP.

We disagree with conventional wisdom on two counts. One is that it believes history, and the second is that what is taking place in the PNP is almost inevitable and good for the party. It is essential to renewal.

Over the past 27 years, until it lost the government in February, the PNP had been out of office for only four, between 2007 and 2011. During that period, with the end of the Cold War and the growth of globalisation, the party, as government, was, in increasing increments, being forced to adjust its underlying democratic socialist philosophy and populist instincts to accommodate the dictates of the market. Its disciplined and welcomed management of Jamaica's fiscal affairs during the latest stint in government is a case in point.

But this necessary tactical, if not ideological, adjustment happened without an overarching engagement of the party's broad membership, some of whom perhaps feel betrayed and abandoned, and concerned that the PNP's populist headland has been captured by the JLP. They perceive that the party's victory in the February election as evidence of this.




The PNP, in the circumstance, has, at the very least, to reinterpret its ideology/philosophy to accord with the times. Its timing, in this respect, is fortuitous. The ages of its current top leaders suggest that the party should be thinking about transition. And even if the presidency passes from Mrs Simpson Miller to her more likely success, Peter Phillips, that would most probably represent an interregnum for institutional rebuilding and mentoring.

With regard to the presumption that such disruptions are alien to the PNP, the party need only recall he ideological debates of the late 1940s into the '50s, culminating in the 1952 expulsion of its Marxist wing, exemplified in the Four Hs - Richard Hart, Frank Hill, Ken Hill and Arthur Henry. Similar turmoil re-emerged in the PNP in the late 1970s into the early 1980s, during the leadership of Michael Manley, after the party's reassertion of its ideology of democratic socialism, which some people felt benefited from too wide an interpretation.