Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Mark Wignall | The PNP must start recovery from now

Published:Sunday | August 23, 2020 | 12:18 AM

PNP supporters on Nomination Day at Saint Andrew West Rural constituency.
PNP supporters on Nomination Day at Saint Andrew West Rural constituency.

The word going around is that some of the most ardent People’s National Party (PNP) insiders know that the last rites will be sung late on the evening of September 3, 2020.

On the basis that powerful forces inside the PNP have mentally set up their actions post-September 3 to either re-engage with the party to assist in rebuilding or distancing themselves for the next generation, the impending loss will first throw up the first casualty: Peter Phillips.

All political parties are made up of people with oversized egos and fragile emotions. When Phillips goes in early 2021, most of those who supported his incumbency while they knew it was eating away at the heart of the party’s growth will be unceremoniously dumped. Well, no, not actually, but they will be politically nullified.

There is a lesson that the PNP can learn from the past, and it is an open-book lesson from the late Eddie Seaga. Seaga lost the all-conquering power he briefly held in the 1977 to 1982 period in early 1989. He was never loved, and in his most honest moments, certainly in those shared with me, he never placed a great priority on wanting people liking him, an odd trait for a politician.

From he lost in 1989, Seaga could not and would never be persuaded by those around him that he would never be able to replicate that massive victory in October 1980. As he used that autocratic Busta-like side of himself in controlling the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), it led to one bout of factionalism into another.

The beneficiary of it was the PNP’s PJ Patterson, who took it as a political Sunday stroll to whip the JLP in a repeat in 1993, 1997, and 2002. The poll findings during those times found that the JLP’s internal divisions were the big turn-off factors. At the core of that understanding was the simple deduction: If Seaga could not get his caucus together and bring unity of purpose and direction, how could any voter give it the mandate to run a government in that state of disunity?

WAS HOLNESS SELFISH IN CALLING ELECTIONS?

That understanding has long sunk in for many of those in the PNP, but now that the elections are on, they are forced to do what every politician is doing now: moving around in their constituencies and pretending a new love for their potential voters.

The only scenarios were these. The PM saw COVID-19 as not moving from Jamaica until late 2021 or thereabouts. The PM, being a political man, saw what all polls were saying about him and the JLP. He was being moved by powerful political interests abroad and at home.

Two Saturdays ago, as I drove around the KMA, I was pleasantly surprised at the high percentage of people wearing masks – probably in the region of about 80 per cent. As one moved into inner-city communities and small businesses, the percentage fell off.

The reality is, even if there is the last big blow of a first wave or what we are now witnessing is the beginning of a second wave, many of us will have to own our indiscipline and inscribe it on this new outbreak.

But, is the JLP Government a player in this? Is Andrew Holness a selfish man? In answering this we must ask, what would it have taken for the PM to delay the election until it was due in February of 2021?

Again, I put to you that he is a political man. Plus any benefits and direct and indirect stimulus funds he has disbursed, they all have a shelf life. He knows that as 2021 comes around, that most difficult job of crafting a budget while seated atop an economy in a bubble will be a massive open sore that will be festering as the new year ages.

WHAT COULD MAKE THE JLP LOSE?

All polls done by leading media houses and pollsters have shown the ruling JLP led by Andrew Holness in a canter to win the next elections. What makes the three polls – Nationwide News Network -Blue Dot; Observer – Bill Johnson; RJR – Don Anderson – a horrific political nightmare for the PNP is that they have, basically, reinforced each other in showing the PNP’s lag in the race to come.

One of the biggest judgments that will be made in the next elections will be looking at the party better able to restore an economy that has been deeply shattered by the corona virus pandemic.

When we bear in mind that prior to COVID-19, polls were giving Holness and the JLP high marks, and during and after, polls have given higher marks to the Holness-JLP combination, I cannot see that any significant percentage of the electorate will see the Opposition PNP as that party that is likely to do a better job in the post-COVID-19 period.

One criticism that I keep on hearing from the PNP is that much of the physical infrastructure built out during the JLP’s 2016 to the present was planned and started under the PNP and that the PNP ought to get credit for that. Reasonable I would think, but who are the people best suited to award that sort of credit where it is due?

I say that if the PNP had laid out those grand plans, and it was intimately and politically in touch with the pulse of the people – the likely voters – why did it fail in convincing the people that they would soon see the fruits of those plans?

If it foolishly allowed itself to be ‘beaten’ in a squeaker of an election in February 2016 just to prepare itself for the upcoming defeat of its politics, then maybe that is added reason to begin the plan for the replacement of much of its leadership.

More than a few PNP candidates will feel the weight of their leader on the morning after September 3.

But although it will bring pain for a long, sleepless period, if the party is worth more than its weight in salt, it will eventually regain its pride of place.

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