Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Dictatorship over democracy

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Everything that's wrong with Jamaican politics is currently on full display in South West St Andrew.

Bettors on sports know that when two teams match up, the percentages say punters will get it right 50 per cent of the time - about the same as predicting the outcome of a coin flip. This is why odds against each team winning are usually 10/11 because if bookies offered even money, they wouldn't make a profit. By shading the odds to slightly odds-on, bookies carve out about a nine per cent profit for themselves in the long run.

Somehow, in the matter of South West St Andrew, the PNP has succeeded in losing every 10/11 bet, making every wrong choice, and presenting the Jamaican electorate with the clearest reason to keep it in Opposition for a very long time. To begin with, the former leader takes forever to retire after her second successive election loss as prime minister. Then, her exit is so clumsily handled that it appeared to most independent observers that she was shovelled out to make way for perennial bridesmaid Peter Phillips.

The PNP had every opportunity, being in Opposition, to arrange a smooth transition but, instead, the new leader is made to wait months after his election for his coronation and a bitter vice-presidential election is held in full public view, exposing the party's continuing deep divisions.

 

NO FINESSE

 

Not even the appointment of a successor to Sista P as MP (oops, sorry, candidate for a farcical by-election) can be carried out with any finesse. On June 19, new general secretary (gen sec) Julian circulates what he later insists is a request for "expressions of interest" by June 23. At deadline, only two party members, both councillors, had replied affirmatively.

It's irrelevant whether you call them "nominations" or "expressions of interest" because either way, one can safely conclude that NOBODY ELSE had the slightest interest in representing the people of South West St Andrew at parliamentary level. If anyone did, they only had to honour the gen sec's request.

However, if, as one Angela Brown Burke has been reported as arguing subsequent to June 23, you take the view that the president is empowered to select the PNP's representative (see Gleaner Online; July 20; PNP executive proposes selection conference for Portia's successor), I suppose that responding to gen sec's specific request for nominations (oops, sorry, there I go again, "expressions of interest") before the deadline set by that responsible officer wouldn't be necessary. Angela should know because if she needs advice about the sort of respect one ought to show a gen sec, she need only ask hubby Paul, who held that post for several years. If, as Angela has been reported as arguing, it's all up to the party president, she must be saying that the PNP is a dictatorship. Is she also saying she always had the Dictator's support so she could snub gen sec in June without thinking?

 

LENGTHY SILENCE

 

Despite the passed deadline for "expressions of interest", the PNP doesn't announce an extension of time for further expressions of interest to be delivered, nor does it schedule a run-off between the two interested persons. A lengthy silence descends on Old Hope Road. Almost a month after gen sec's deadline, former Party leader Portia Simpson Miller appears to breach every political protocol known to man or beast by publicly endorsing Angela Brown Burke, a person who expressed zero interest in June in representing South West St Andrew, as her successor. Still, there's deathly silence from Old Hope Road, but one of the original two "interested" seems to catch the rake and withdraws from the contest, leaving only Audrey Smith-Facey as a duly declared candidate.

Audrey won't budge. So, what does PNP do? It hastily calls a meeting of the executive to discuss how to respond to this egregious snub of the general secretary and the new leader (as I see it) by a former leader and a wannabe candidate councillor. What does PNP executive decide? Is Portia reprimanded for interfering with the internal party selection of her successor? This is something Norman Manley resisted, even when his son was seeking to succeed him; 'Joshua' resisted when Portia and P.J. were vying to succeed him; and P.J. when a motley crew vied to succeed him.

Is Brown Burke told to hold her corner and follow proper protocols? Of course not. In what I consider to be one of the most ballsless, spineless, and shameless public statements issued by a Jamaican political party, the PNP executive, above the signature of the same gen sec whose protocol rules were treated with scorn, recommended: "(i) A selection conference be convened for the SW St Andrew constituency on Sunday, July 30, 2017, at which Cdes Audrey Smith-Facey, Karl Blake and Angela Brown Burke will be the contenders to become the constituency representative."

DWL! "Will" be? Didn't Blake, Portia's cousin, withdraw in the wake of Portia's endorsement of Angela Brown Burke? But, wait, it gets worse. Without taking a breath while scampering about like a scared hare, the gen sec further announces another recommendation:

"(ii) The nomination procedures and selection process be established and supervised by the party secretariat, with the general secretary being mandated to ensure a fair and transparent selection process."

LMAO! What "nomination procedures"? The party's Executive Committee has ALREADY NAMED THE CONTESTANTS, including one who withdrew. "Fair and transparent"? Surely, you jest?! It's a disgraceful exhibition of unjust arbitrariness disguised as democracy.

You MUST read the entire release which The Gleaner hasn't published. Read how Gen Sec Julian scrambles around to explain his own post-June volte face:

"There have been two further developments ... . On Monday, July 17, Cde Portia Simpson Miller ... endorsed Cde Angela Brown Burke to be her replacement (sic) South West St Andrew. In addition, by letter dated July 17, 2017, to the general secretary, the constituency secretary for South West St Andrew advised that the 'vast majority of the executive and officers support the view of ... Portia Simpson Miller that Comrade VP Angela Brown Burke is the most suitably qualified person to succeed her ... .'"

Please note the careful wording: "... the vast majority of 'the executive and officers' support [Portia's endorsement]." The executive and officers (or the "vast majority" of them, because my sources tell me the leader prefers another candidate) apparently are hell-bent on forcing Brown Burke down the constituency delegates' throats. That metaphor is apropos because my impeccable sources tell me that polls taken among delegates have Sista P's endorsee running LAST in a race that includes Damian Crawford (second to last); Blake and Smith Facey, who is in front by several city blocks. Apparently, the voice of thousands of South West St Andrew delegates can be outvoted by "the vast majority of the executive and officers". Barf!

What's REALLY going on here? Can the PNP be so inept, or is there another explanation? Who is this Audrey Smith-Facey? Why is she so popular in the constituency? My information is that Audrey Smith-Facey, who impressed me during an excellent interview she gave to Clifton Hughes on July 21, is the power on the ground behind the Portia dynasty. I'm reliably informed that she quietly ensured Portia's victory against Peter Phillips not once but twice, travelling the island tirelessly, capturing delegates the Phillips camp was sure belonged to them. She's described as intelligent, strategic, and militant. In other words, she's a huge asset to any political party.

So why's she getting such a fight from party HQ? Who wants Brown Burke, another strong Portia loyalist, in that seat so badly they'd diss Portia's right hand to achieve it? I don't believe the answer to that question is Peter Phillips, although I understand why he also mightn't be a big Audrey fan. My usually reliable sources insist that Peter's preferred replacement candidate is Damion Crawford, but he's not gaining any party traction there. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but it would explain the last two months of apparent confusion and bungling.

Is Phillips already under pressure from ambitious party high-ups focused on securing their delegate support in an anticipated future internal race to replace him? Are cliques forming and campaigns already launched? Is Phillips getting the level of support and commitment that all previous leaders have demanded and received? Is he strong enough to take the tough decisions required to command that respect and support, especially from second-tier leadership? Why has he not yet named his Shadow Cabinet? And what about Naomi?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.