Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | Machiavellian options in South West St Andrew

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 7:00 AM

If natural justice prevails, Audrey Smith Facey will be confirmed, unchallenged, as the People's National Party's (PNP) candidate for the by-election to fill the South West St Andrew parliamentary seat, recently vacated by the party's retired president, Portia Simpson Miller.

But Mrs Smith Facey and natural justice, as well as the PNP's new president, Peter Phillips, seem to be in for a tough time, having been served a fast, curved ball - there is a possibility that it was inadvertent - by Mrs Simpson Miller and her acolyte, Angela Brown Burke. If he has the political skills to marshal things in his favour, this could be an opportunity for Dr Phillips to stamp his authority on the party.

History is important to appreciating the obvious intrigues in this matter.

Although Mrs Simpson Miller endorsed Peter Phillips as her successor, it was neither out of great personal affection nor because she believed it was really time for her to move on.

First, Dr Phillips and Mrs Simpson Miller twice contested for the leadership of the PNP.

In 2006, when P.J. Patterson retired, they were among the candidates for the post and the prime ministership. Mrs Simpson Miller won narrowly. Two years later, Mrs Simpson Miller, having served a year as prime minister and lost a general election, was challenged by Dr Phillips. He lost.

However, when the PNP formed the government between 2012 and 2016, Dr Phillips, as Mrs Simpson Miller's finance minister, oversaw a major overhaul of Jamaica's economy, for which he won plaudits. It is true, though, that the austerity that Dr Phillips enforced would have been far more difficult to accomplish without Mrs Simpson Miller's popularity.

Yet, Mrs Simpson Miller, 71, has plenty detractors. She is accused of being disengaged from policy and of lacking a philosophical core, and so presided over a PNP that, having surrendered its values, merely meandered. In the aftermath of her electoral defeat, there was a chorus for renewal. It is against that backdrop that Mrs Simpson Miller eventually stepped down. Her endorsement of Dr Phillips, in part, represented her expectation that he would best protect and burnish her main legacy: the economic reforms of her 2012-2016 government.

 

WORKING BEHIND THE SCENES

 

There is a perception, however, that Mrs Simpson Miller, even from the periphery and behind the scenes, wants to remain an influential force in the PNP. That's the backdrop from which many people interpret developments in her old constituency.

Prospective standard-bearers had up to June 23 to nominate for the seat. At the deadline, two did - Mrs Smith Facey and Karl Blake - both of whom are local government councillors. Mr Blake has since dropped out. In the normal course of events, Mrs Smith Facey would be ushered as the candidate. Except that this week, Mrs Brown Burke, a vice-president of the party, and a strong supporter of the former leader, confirmed her interest in the seat, backed by a video endorsement from Mrs Simpson Miller.

This complicates things for Dr Phillips. He can cause the party to proceed in accordance with the established rules or to reopen the nominations to accommodate Mrs Brown Burke. In the event of the latter, Mrs Simpson Miller would be assuaged and Mrs Brown Burke would be assured of a parliamentary platform from which to pursue her own ambitions. Dr Phillips' authority over the PNP would, on the face of it, be tenuous.

Yet, there is an opportunity in acquiescence. If Mrs Smith Facey beats Mrs Brown Burke in a run-off, Mrs Simpson Miller's influence will be diminished.