Thu | Jul 9, 2020

Mark Wignall | PNP fearfully expecting an August election

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2020 | 12:00 AM

The People’s National Party (PNP) has long been limping around with the twin horrors of its leader, Dr Peter Phillips, showing up less popular in opinion polls than the party he leads and, if that was insufficient ignominy, the PNP consistently and painfully reaching for the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) coattails in those same electoral soundings.

It is some wonder, then, that with those burdensome handicaps, the PNP has not openly admitted its inferiority complex, it being only a bit player on the stage with the leading man, Andrew Holness.

It is in a state that leads only to heads bowed in shame when compared to the ideals of Norman Manley. Of course, there were some iterations of the tenets guarding those ideals that showed up briefly in the 1970s. But they don’t go anywhere near as far as what Manley envisioned for the party and its role in governance.

Many in the PNP and some in the thinking class have bestowed iconic honours to P.J. Patterson’s time as prime minister. They use his multiple wins to dub him the best PNP leader in post-Independence times.

Certainly, a man who could, and did, win elections in 1993, 1997, and 2002 and, when he sensed that the political winds were blowing against him, palmed it off to a stunningly unready Simpson Miller would definitely be close to the top of the totem pole of electoral wizards.

Unfortunately, too much time was spent sharpening the electoral pencil point of the PNP and not enough on good governance. So whenever I look at the P.J. years (I assisted by voting PNP in 1993, 1997, and 2002), I think of that time as Jamaica’s wasted years.

Dr Peter Phillips is more an academic than a politician. Surely, if ones skill in politics is rated by a PNP politician repeatedly winning in a PNP garrison (East Central St Andrew), then maybe he and all garrison holders in the PNP and JLP would be better off handling a whacker at an upscale Kingston 6 residence.

In last week, when a letter was penned and signed by 15 of the PNP’s slate of 29 parliamentarians setting out problems it said they were having with the PNP leader, it was more than a subtle threat to use that majority as a constitutional cudgel against the Opposition leader. The letter did not threaten his post, but that 15 was power that could be used.

“We expect Holness to call an election in August/September, and, as we assess it, in the state that we are, the leader is set to take us into a most depressing defeat at the next elections,” said one of the signers to me last Wednesday.

FLUTTERING GROUP OF 15

“There is a group, and we need to know where their head is. When we know, we will do what we have to do,” said Dr Phillips.

He has the political authority to utter words to the fluttering group of 15 to make it sound like he is still the big boss and his words ought to be held up as a threat. I totally understand that.

If he deems their letter as a threat, then big fraid has the right to threaten little fraid. But the grounds shift easily after that. His party ranks ahead of him, Holness is constantly eating him for dinner, and at his last showing against Peter Bunting in the PNP presidential race, his win was a bare 76-vote squeak of a mouse.

While he has the authority to say what he will of this concerned fluttering group of 15, his words are not supported by the realities existing among the broader electorate and the group of PNP delegates.

In the 1990s and beyond, when JLP Opposition Leader Eddie Seaga was constantly holding the JLP in an electoral chokehold, thus creating easy wins for P.J. Patterson, Seaga could always engineer big wins among his delegate corps, even when a big chunk of his parliamentary group and others stepped on to the dance floor in 1994/1995 to the strains of the National Democratic Movement’s 10-second waltz.

When I asked another member of the fluttering group of 15, “What were the main factors that drove you guys to pen the letter?” he responded: “We believe Holness is likely to call an election in August. We also know that he is more politically ruthless than many people believe. Third, with all due respect to comrade Phillips, with him beset with stage-three cancer and any potential reversals that may occur, we think that the electorate will not vote for him at this time.

“We wish him well, but his illness cannot market him as a potential prime minister. The time is right to save the PNP with new leadership. Dr Phillips should bow out gracefully. “

Sometime in late 1997, I was at a streetside stall at one edge of the Duhaney Park plaza in the wee hours of the morning.

‘UNFIT TO PLEA’

There were three young men – two of them ex-convicts – and the man who ran the stall. In a few minutes, we were in conversation. A few hot Guinness drinks made the talk easier.

“Me believe sey ’bout two outta three man a prison mad,” one said. His friend agreed with him. While they were hardly independent auditors of the system, it was worth it to listen to them.

“Nuff man arrive good inna dem head, but if yu nuh shift up yu head space fi deal wid survival, yu bound fi mad,” one said.

With the recent horrific news that a man in the prison system died after waiting 41 years to get a trial, my mind went back to the 1997 conversation.

‘Unfit to plea’ must have meant something to the court authorities when the man was first deemed so. But how does that go from year one to two to 20 and then 41 and death unless the man was seen as less than a pig in a mud pen?

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.