Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Ronald Mason | PNP in transition

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Portia Simpson Miller has signalled her intention to demit the office as the president of the People's National Party and leadership of the Opposition.

She has a political career that could be delineated and analysed in three segments. The first is as a leader and activist in the party. In this respect, one must evaluate her against that standard that political parties in our liberal democracy exist to acquire state power. She has had an exemplary career in this segment.

Her 40 years of service is highlighted by her resonance with the people. She has served her party with distinction and always furthered the cause of the PNP. Well done! I suspect her tenure in the party will prove to be lifelong.

The second section of her public life is as an elected representative. The parish council tenure was short-lived, but her parliamentary tenure has lasted 40 years and may very well continue to the future. One is hard-pressed to highlight more than the fact that she is the first female to occupy the post. She has served.

The third aspect of her public service is primus inter pares, being prime minister and leader of the Opposition. The record is worthy of in-depth analysis when it is concluded.

This signal has resulted in an upcoming leadership contest. Whoever holds the office opposition leader will have a constitutional role and should be the most qualified of those who may be eligible. The qualification needed would encompass, but not be limited to, education, leadership traits, a vision for the party, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to both manage and delegate. This is critical when assessing those who may be candidates for leadership in the Opposition party, because this incorporates the necessity to unify the party and reflect its political heritage.

 

Different approach

 

The party appears to need a different approach going into the future. Looking forward, the impact of technology on communication and administrative systems should be at the forefront.

I have heard it suggested that we will follow in the steps of David Cameron and the date of the next general election will be announced on social media and not from mass gatherings at either Half-Way Tree or Sam Sharpe Square. This is a generational change. Is the PNP going to turn to the post-Independence generation, or are is it going to continue the gentrification of PNP leadership?

The announced challengers for the leadership of the PNP, up to this point, are both pre-Independence personalities; however, one is on the downside of the 50-year-olds. Why is this important? Because 934,000 of our fellow citizens are under the age of 18 and 30 per cent under the age of 15. Only 7.6 per cent of Jamaica's population is over the age of 65 (UNICEF statistics, May 2015).

For any leader to have maximum traction in management and motivation of this young population, he or she must be able to relate and earn their trust and confidence. The young people in Jamaica will be consuming our educational products. They will be at peak child-bearing age. They will be entering the labour force in droves. They will be joining either the productive workforce or those referred to as unattached youth.

Let us examine these candidates in the prism of the foregoing. Peter Phillips is 66 years old. He has a reputation of administrative competence, but there is no public record of his involvement with the youth of the country.

 

Social-media promulgation

 

It is difficult to recall his political career having significant motivational component for the young. I have no record of his constituency in the inner city. I seek to name a project, but I am aware of his social-media promulgation of things being done. This, however, stands in contrast to someone like a Damion Crawford, who put his constituency emphasis on educating the youth. Dayton Campbell also comes to mind in this area. A focus on youth will become a dominant strategy in the foreseeable future. We must seek to grow the economy by empowering our youth.

The other announced candidate has a reputation of being financially savvy and competent. However, his track record in government, particularly as minister of national security, left a lot to be desired. While managing that portfolio, its successes were not numerous and his frustration saw him publicly pleading for divine intervention.

If money was to be the determinant in this contest, Peter Bunting would probably win.

The record of achievement of those who seek party leadership should be making others come to the forefront. I do not know that politically, organisationally and temperamentally, Wykeham McNeill would not be a good choice, but the PNP has this stupid, archaic notion that this undefined concept of paying your dues must dominate every leadership contest. Take a look at Justin Trudeau, Canada; Barack Obama, USA; David Cameron, UK.

Lisa Hanna waits in the wings, but there is significant opposition as to her bona fides as a PNP persona. There is the feeling in some quarters that she should not even be in the PNP at all. Let's see how the future unfolds.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.