Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Mark Wignall | Will Paulwell make his move early this year?

Published:Sunday | January 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Phillip Paulwell

The prime minister/party leader/president, the general secretary, and the party chairman are the three most powerful political positions in Jamaica. In this narrow band perched at the top tier, it is much easier to use one position as a launching pad towards attaining the ultimate - party leader and prime minister.

The political guile of outgoing PNP President Portia Simpson Miller in setting up many paper groups in her own constituency and broad alliance in key constituency blocs means that if a Portia loyalist like Phillip Paulwell wants to get close to those potential delegate votes he will have to still work closely with her, challenge for the chairmanship and, in doing so, signal that he has no intention of playing second fiddle to Peter Bunting.

The PNP baton has been smoothly moved towards Peter Phillips but his shelf life is limited. With Paulwell years earlier signalling that he had his eyes on the PNP presidency after Portia exits, and him having no intention of upsetting the sudden maturity which has descended on the PNP, it is good sense for him to settle neatly behind Phillips while edging aside Bunting and saying, 'Wait yu turn, yu come way after me.'

Bunting has as his most ardent supporting cast Western Hanover MP, the young and highly ambitious Ian Hayles, and Senator Mark Golding. In any positioning for future leadership, Bunting has a far way to go in cementing blocks of delegates from the much smaller cast of characters in play for him.

"Will the Americans be OK with Paulwell at the top of the ticket?" I asked a PNP insider while mentioning previous info published by Wikileaks.

"Well, I know the State Department professionals are quite comfortable with Phillips but I don't see them having the same ease with Paulwell. I don't think that that will be enough to stop Paulwell from going forward, and for now I'm not even sure the Americans have that same level of interest."

"If you take a look at the other side, the JLP, Montague is chairman, but is that placing him closer to the top post?" I asked.

"The cultural and class dynamics in the JLP are somewhat convoluted and would probably lessen Montague moving too fast for now. But look at what happened after he got the chairmanship. MP and a ministry in the cross hairs of Jamaican life," he said.

Paulwell would be wise to ally himself with the new and quietly ambitious and capable Julian Robinson. Culturally, it is thought in both political parties that he who is closest to the general secretary is also closest to the delegates list. Not necessarily for manipulation but for easy reference for strategic uses.

How will a revitalised PNP affect the governance of the JLP administration?


experimental reality


One could approach answering that question with experimental reality. Between 1989 and the mid-2000s, the electoral unviability of JLP leader Edward Seaga sent the ruling PNP into a long state of governmental recess while holding power.

While global and regional growth rates were humming, the poor and lackadaisical leadership of the PNP just kept giving it election wins while local growth rates moved from negative to barely above one per cent in the better years. A weakened and electorally unthreatening JLP guaranteed the long stay at the wicket by weak PNP governance.

While there was road building and intermittent spikes in petty employment, the PNP administration's effect on governance was purely pedestrian. The only real success story of those times was Phillips's role as 'Mr Fixit' in various ministries. The disaster was the finance ministry run by Omar Davies in the 1990s.

This year the JLP Government will have to deal with public sector transformation, that academic term meaning that civil servants are going to lose their jobs, in the worst of times, not a nice place to be for all players.

The skill that the finance ministry utilised under the last minister in the PNP government of 2011 to 2016 to keep on kicking that particular can down the road has worked better than the PNP hoped for.

A JLP government is in power and somewhat socially hobbled by the need to find quick fixes for the increase in violent crime, other pressing items such as sending home civil servants, not done since then PM Seaga did it in the mid-1980s, will not be socially safe or politically comfortable.


Experienced growth


Although the economy experienced growth in the wake of the shrinking public sector wage bill in the late 1980s, the dynamics operating then (huge dollar assistance pumped into the economy by a friendly Republican president) and an economy on the cusp of globalisation would definitely not be the same now.

My JLP friends high up in the party hierarchy tell me that when the Republican Party owns the presidency, a Jamaican economy under a JLP government does much better. I try with little effect in also pointing out to them that not once did I hear Donald Trump mention the Caribbean and Central America on the stump, unless it was to hurl invective at people from the region being on the wrong side of the immigration battles.

While reshaping the Jamaica Constabulary Force through new leadership which does not carry the baggage of the 'squaddie' culture and dangerous alliances, the JLP administration needs to find success on a few other important fronts.

Significantly lowering the violent crime rate, growing its political capital in the eyes of its exam invigilators, the IMF, encouraging/developing medium and long-term employment creation investment projects from St Thomas to Negril Point while holding open a social safety net for the society's most vulnerable.

Should Bunting roll over and play dead?

When Bunting went on his political exploratory trips in March 2016, it represented only another of the leadership aspirational moments in either the PNP or the JLP. In other words, it was totally normal, especially with the PNP leader wounded by a double dose of election losses.

The political caprices of the JLP and the PNP have switched chairs from early to mid-2015 to the present.

With the necessary socio-political disruption brought on by Young Turks in the PNP, Damion Crawford and Raymond Pryce, with skilful verbal cudgels like PNP councillor Venesha Phillips waiting in the wings, the old leadership of the PNP stumbled in trying to read the new signposts while possessing only knowledge of its outdated hieroglyphics.

The result was called 'disunity' and it naturally brought on factionalism. At the same time, then JLP opposition leader, Andrew Holness, was under fire from his second-tier leadership. The pressure could have been brought on by the JLP's need to show on paper a workable path to an election victory. Or it could have been that other power aspirants had been made blind by their gnawing hunger for a bigger bite of the leadership cake.

Whatever it was, at one point in 2015, the behavioural changes in both parties, sent out to the public as 'division', made it appear that both were at the same spot on their transition plane. The major difference was, we expected it of the JLP, mostly a fractious party in opposition. With the PNP, known for keeping its squabbles buried under the mattress, we were somewhat shocked.

With double victory by the JLP it quickly morphed to 'mature' behaviour and somewhat responsible governance (a work, hopefully, in progress). Forced into an embarrassed view of its own political frailties, the PNP has recently made the decision to anoint Peter Phillips.

That has introduced most forcibly unto Bunting's plate his own sociopolitical limitations across the broader ranks of the PNP.

In 2017, will he be again seen as rich and disconnected and much less deserving of a shot in the line of leadership of the PNP?

Certainly, he knows that he needs to forge a new alliance between himself and the quietly powerful General Secretary Julian Robinson.

He also knows that in any race to prove their respective 'roots' PNP credentials, an important factor in the PNP, should Paulwell in fact begin strategy to challenge and win the PNP chair, he (Bunting) would not be able to find equal footing there.

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