Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Mark Wignall | Holness is Koffee, Phillips is Sesame Street

Published:Sunday | February 16, 2020 | 12:21 AM
Dr Peter Phillips
Prime Minister Andrew Holness

It must have been the worst sort of a gut punch for the People’s National Party (PNP) in it helplessly sitting by an orange-painted box on the pavement and watching Trafalgar division Councillor Kari Douglas walk away and give love to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as she fully embraced it. And loudly told the nation of what she saw as Andrew Holness’ many attributes as a leader.

That must hurt.

In its timing it could not be better for the governing JLP. Kari, by her personality, invites interest and attention from the general public. She represents the feisty side of the unstoppable Jamaican woman. A huge vogue exists now for that type of a woman here and we are generating them daily.

I have no idea how long the negotiations took between Kari Douglas and the JLP, but in the end it has to be a near mortal blow for the Opposition PNP.

Many political pundits have been observing the stance of PM Holness over the last two years, and what they see tells them that he is connecting with young people in a most positive way.

They may not be true believers in the present political system, but they are listening. With a piece of PNP royalty walking away for the party and declaring its main tenet of socialism as outmoded and foolish, Douglas must be opening new eyes and telling us which party is moving forward and which one is barking at flying birds.

A few weeks ago I suggested that one way out of the political quagmire that the Opposition leader finds himself would be for him to try to claim back some of what the JLP administration is claiming is their policy success.

What made my suggestion so foolish is that, for the last year or so, the really big problem Peter Phillips would have in legitimately laying claim to authoring much of the Chinese-built ­infrastructure, the uptick in employment and the general improvement in the economy is that a ­significant percentage of the voting public have already given Holness the ownership of this legacy. Especially the management of it.

In other words, the best of Peter’s ­oldies but goodies cannot stand up alongside Andrew’s present array of chart busters.

Peter is Sesame Street. Andrew is Koffee.


In 1972, when I was barely out of being 21 years old, I wanted to vote for the PNP’s Michael Manley in the February general election that year. Then, one had to be 18 at the last enumeration and I did not meet that age status.

Since that time, every set of young people getting to the age where one would expect them to be interested in the connection between voting and government policy which affects their lives have spurned the act of voting. In the last few years, it seems that that may be ­changing … and without too much direct and hard-sell persuasion by Prime Minister Holness.

He did this by pushing ahead, always seemingly in a hurry because he was convinced that the new generation of his national constituents was not up to the same-old, same-old trickery and plodding towards the next slate of empty political promises.

There were still bugaboos in the system and the biggest one was corruption in the governmental system. That was always a sour point among Jamaica’s brightest young people.

When ministers tried to kick away regulatory hurdles and greased up themselves on the excess fat of the banquets, Holness, in good time, pushed them through the exit door and into the dark alleyway of shame and banishment from politics.

He knew the political risks but still he charged ahead on the broader political and policy agendas – on security, education, health, infrastructural and commercial expansion, programmes for the youth and housing development, up and down the social spectrum.

“The average town in Jamaica is about a mile long,” said a PNP MP who believes that its leader is just not up to the job. “Who in the PNP is prepared to give him a good pair of sneakers and ask him to walk through that town on a campaign tour?”

But even if Peter Phillips cannot do the physical things to make good photo ops for the PNP’s election campaign, what message can he now make to convince the young of any new relevance he may have found?


The Opposition PNP has just completed a bus tour specifically to gin up enthusiasm among its supporters in preparation for a privately conducted opinion poll. The PNP has too much experience to not know that the ruling JLP is about to spring a trap on it.

At present, the political momentum favours the JLP and its leader and PM riding high. I can remember in 2007 I criticised then PNP leader and PM, Portia Simpson Miller, for dithering on calling elections. It was called in the hurricane season and had to be called off as one hurricane headed our way but eventually veered off.

So let us rule out June to November. Too much of a socio-economic gamble. And why would PM Holness want to spoil our Christmas in December. That leaves us March, April and May… maybe a bit of June.

Certainly, Prime Minister Holness must be considering the fluidity in the spread of COVID 19, the virus that still has many questions unanswered. Jamaica is still in its dengue impact but that is waning. What we are hardly prepared for is any worst-case scenario in COVID19.

There is no fiscal space for it in the recently presented 2020-2021 Budget. Most definitely, the PM would want to get the election out of the way before even the thoughts of worse and worst-case scenarios enter the minds of our planners.

The economy is on the right path even as the streets run wild with young desperadoes shooting at each other, extortionists on the hunt and too many stray bullets taking over our public spaces.

End of May to June sounds good?


Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to and