Holness a hypocrite?
Andrew Holness has not been having a happy new year. And political prosperity has certainly been eluding him. His unpopularity just got significantly higher with the retrieval of his apology to Arthur Williams and Chris Tufton, who were vindicated by the Constitutional Court in a decision against him.
That the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader had made his solemn - some say sanctimonious - apology in church has made it all the worse for him and has set him up for the perfect scourging and crucifixion. His flip-flop on this issue has been pronounced. The Friday when the court handed down its decision, Mr Holness quickly issued an upbeat release stating that "it must be noted clearly that the decisions summarised in the judgment do not disturb the present composition in the Senate".
By the next day, that confidence evaporated with another, sober release stating clearly that "the Constitutional Court has ruled that the request, procurement and use of pre-signed and undated letters of resignation are inconsistent with the Constitution". He confessed, then, that "the entire situation is regrettable", freely acknowledging "the embarrassment to all of us".
The next day he went to church to confess and seek forgiveness: "Standing here at the moral compass of the nation, it is important to acknowledge that if I have done something wrong or my actions have been declared wrong, I have a duty to apologise to whom I have wronged." And he did so "unreservedly" to "my friends", "Arthur and Chris". Holness pledged: "So I will be moving to ensure the law is respected." Those words are being repeated over and over now as Holness is lambasted far and wide.
Not to be forgotten, too, is that the day before his dramatic turnaround, he gave an interview to TVJ's 'Smile Jamaica', with absolutely no indication of a change of heart there. What epiphany occurred in that 24-hour period? Whose expert legal advice is he relying on? What did counsel bring to light that emboldened him to appeal the court's decision? These answers are not clear. But what is clear is the political fallout from this decision. Some are prepared to bury him - after his own political suicide, they say.
On Thursday, Gleaner cartoonist Las May cruelly placed him in a coffin marked 'political suicide', with a woman with implements in hand ready to nail him in. A man shouts, "Dem a bury Andrew!" That was affixed beside a biting editorial titled 'The strange Mr Holness'. A letter in that same issue of the paper echoes the sentiments of many: "Holness lacks stability of mind, character."
The letter begins: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8)." Letter writer Jermaine Johnson goes on: "Such seems to be the case with the leader of the Opposition ... . As one who aspires to be prime minister of this country, he lacks stability of mind and character ... . This sort of mistrust and wobbly leadership does not befit one whom Jamaica needs for its transformation, but rather highlights ... a 'regrettable embarrassment'."
The Letter of the Day, 'Jamaica in deep trouble', written by Michelle Bradshaw, was just as caustic: "The man stood before God and man and offered an apology for his misdeeds. Yet lo and behold, he is now appealing that which he was not responsible for! Any Sankey can sing suh? And people actually think he is better than what we have now? Seriously?"
The letter writer is clearly no admirer of this Government, but she, like many others, doesn't see the JLP as an alternative under Holness. Increasingly on the streets and on the cocktail circuit, people are saying that the JLP will be in the political wilderness for a long time, that the party has a death wish, and that it is incurably fractious and divisive.
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
The moneyed classes are not banking on the JLP. It is no exaggeration to say the JLP faces a crisis of confidence. I, however, don't share many people's dismissal of Andrew Holness and the pervasive cynicism about him.
I freely admit that Holness' sudden decision to challenge the Constitutional Court's ruling is politically damaging and internally divisive. It does not win friends and influence people. If Holness had challenged the decision right away, things would have been totally different. He would not have the level of anger against him he is facing now. People feel he is a hypocrite to go in church and apologise and now turn around and challenge the court. They feel he is playing cynical political games at worst and, at best, that he is indecisive and doesn't know his own mind. Or he is being led by others. None of which is flattering.
But I totally disagree with those who say his action to appeal necessarily means he was insincere when he apologised. There is nothing to say he couldn't have meant every word he said when he was in church and yet changed his mind afterwards - which, when I last checked, could be an honourable thing to do and is certainly not against the law. New information could have come to light. Deeper reflection could have led him to see implications he had missed before and further counsel could have convinced him he should challenge the ruling.
This argument that he is hypocritical, vindictive or weak-minded because he has made this decision two weeks after that court ruling and his church apology is weak. It is borne of emotion, not reason.
The Gleaner editorial writer's contention that Mr Holness "appeared to have formally buried the hatchet and foreclosed on any intention, if not right, to appeal" represents muddled reasoning. Why this unwarranted and glandular assumption that a challenge to the court's ruling represents some vindictiveness and malice and a refusal to "bury the hatchet"?
Do we give any chance at all to even the slightest possibility that Andrew Holness could sincerely believe that the implications of his leaving this ruling unchallenged could really be deleterious to the Constitution and, yes, even to his own interest as opposition leader? Are the facts you have so conclusive, so coercive and so commanding that there is no possibility - not even an iota - that Andrew Holness could have any sincerity in challenging this ruling?
Even if he is objectively wrong in his analysis, what if he genuinely believes that if he leaves this ruling unchallenged, someone could legitimately challenge his status as opposition leader? What if he now suspects that that brilliant attorney-at-law and Rhodes Scholar Delroy Chuck is right after all that his position as opposition leader is compromised by this court ruling? What if he settles down, mends fences with Arthur Williams and Chris Tufton, puts that Humpty Dumpty of a party together, and then suddenly he is hit with a challenge to his status as opposition leader? Should he be so selfless as not to consider that? And if we are all certain that he is wrong, why not give him his day in court? I, for one, would be most surprised if the Court of Appeal agrees with him. I think he is going to be rebuffed again. There are many who don't like him, and there is a developing anti-Holness narrative that is being marketed quite effectively.
Andrew's biggest problems are political, not legal, I accept. The Gleaner editorial makes a case for Andrew's seeking a political solution to the issue rather than going to court. But we in media should not just be interested in doling out advice on political strategy and realpolitik. Andrew must, indeed, work hard to mend fences and try to convert his internal enemies into friends. But should he prioritise party unity and political horse-trading over everything else? What if he has a genuine concern about constitutional issues?
Call me naÔve, but I say to you that you have no more access to his motives than I. Certainly, his large number of detractors who reflexively say he was hypocritical when he apologised cannot prove that definitely. Who has absolute proof that he did not subsequently come to reasons to regret his apology? We should beware of turning our cynicism into certainty.