Mark Wignall | New beginning for the PNP?
One would be foolish not to acknowledge that in the days leading up to the People's National Party's (PNP) 79th annual conference, all was well with all the factions that had sprung up in the party, especially after the narrow loss to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in February 2016.
It is normal that after an election loss and one followed by a change of party leadership, that a general introspection leads to, first, a blame game, and factions being formed. It seems that many of those allied to the Paulwell and the Bunting factions have decided to cool their heels and are now willing to form a team around party president, Dr Peter Phillips.
The PNP is not used to being in opposition, having won power in 1989, 1993, 1997, and 2002, all without a break. Then when it lost in 2007, and its then leader, Portia Simpson Miller, handled the loss quite badly and petulantly, giving the JLP only one term seemed almost natural as the PNP won again in 2011.
Who, however, would have thought that the very one term handed to the JLP in 2007 would have been imposed on the PNP as it, too, got its first bitter taste of that kind of defeat in 2016. But politics is supposed to be the art of the possible so, in the minds of PNP supporters nothing less than a full return to its victorious ways will suffice at its next outing in 2020.
PNP NEEDS THE WIN
For that reason, the upcoming by-election in South East St Mary is more than a dry run. Forget the history of the seat. The PNP needs a win there not just to convince Comrades that the party is back to its winning ways, but to give party president Peter Phillips that full endorsement of leadership that can only come with an electoral win, even in a seat that many of those in the JLP hierarchy are no longer seeing as nail-biting territory as it was in 2016.
The Caribbean region is in turmoil at this time as destructive hurricanes have done extensive damage to neighbouring islands and Hurricane Maria is still very much alive in the Atlantic. Certainly, as much as sheer luck has allowed us to pursue our local political contests, at some stage, the JLP administration will have to render significant assistance to some of those territories affected. This is not just an expectation. It is an obligation.
If Jamaica's luck holds this hurricane season, it will be expected that the Government will 'whistle and ride' while rendering some help to, say, Dominica, where damage is expected to be catastrophic, and all while carrying on the extensive campaign that will surround the South East St Mary seat.
MUCH BIGGER ISSUES
Long after that campaign has subsided and one party is declared the winner, the Government has much bigger things on its plate. Well over 65 per cent of our people have consistently said that Jamaica would have been better off had we remained a colony of Britain.
That creates a major fault line through just about every part of our socio-economic variables and that view cannot contend with the objectives of Vision 2030 where Jamaica must be seen as the country of choice to live, work, raise children, etc, by the year 2030. The two cannot exist side by side.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his team are grappling with containing violent criminality at just about the time that he has had time enough to review his ministerial talent and the additional pool available. Although he has said that a Cabinet reshuffle is something that he has thought about, the practicality of it is not yet at the place that will allow him the freedoms he is allowed.
Even on the assumption that the JLP wins the by-election in South East St Mary, a 33-30 split will still not give him the room he needs to smoothly navigate to a Cabinet reshuffle.
In our system of government, members of parliament (MP) with egos too big for their heads are always expecting a Cabinet post, so it will be problematic should the prime minister pick someone outside of the MP pool for a ministerial post.
The resulting undercurrent can be as devastating to party unity as hurricanes are to the islands.