Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Mark Wignall | Electoral carnage for PNP

Published:Sunday | September 6, 2020 | 12:17 AM
Phillip Paulwell (centre) speaks to the media at the People’s National Party headquarters after the party lost the general elections.
Phillip Paulwell (centre) speaks to the media at the People’s National Party headquarters after the party lost the general elections.

A few days ago, I posted the following on Facebook: ‘I am expecting Dr Phillips to announce his resignation, or, at the very least, not to make himself available for presidential election in the People’s National Party (PNP) immediately after the backsiding his party will face next Thursday.

‘Life is tough. It is made up of many high moments and unwanted low moments. I expect the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to clear the 40-seat margin and go plus-plus. Right now, the PNP’s best path to victory is investing in the hope that 2025 comes around sooner than usual.

POLITICS IS UNKIND

It is very early Friday morning as I write, and something about the morning seems surreal. We know that the PNP suffered the sort of defeat that rivals the electoral massacre in October 1980. Then, the JLP grabbed 49 of the 63 seats available and had 57 per cent of the popular vote.

In the 1980 election, the garrison was getting its third coat of cement, and politicians from both the PNP and the JLP were still into making life difficult for the electoral authorities.

Although the JLP approached the high 50 per cent-plus of the popular vote in its 49-14, what makes the win particularly gleeful for the JLP is that the taint of the past is absent now. Our electoral system has been the envy of the world for sometime now. September 3 was just another example. The lower turnout was expected.

On the Saturday before the elections, Peter Phillips faced Andrew Holness in a pre-election debate. In doing so, Phillips was getting the biggest audience he could ever hope to achieve because people tuned in to watch Andrew Holness.

After the debate was finished, the judgement parameters were many, but most of those who voted for the JLP didn’t much care. For many months now, they had decided to go with Andrew Holness, and in Peter Phillips getting exposure to what could only have been described as a ‘national’ audience had to have recognised that it was Holness who gave him that exposure.

I describe the moment as surreal because the happenings last Thursday do not usually occur with any degree of regularity. And so it seemed like we were all in a dream. For the Opposition PNP, the cream of the crop of the party was wiped out. One PNP source in South East St Ann told me over a week ago that a privately commissioned poll there was showing that Lisa Hanna was on the verge of losing.

Her eventual 14-vote win will obviously face a recount, and I would not be surprised if she ends up in the losing column. One young man in the PNP who lost had been carrying a line in the PNP that I collected millions of dollars for the JLP for writing in its favour. He, too, lost last Thursday, and I hold no ill will towards him.

SCRIPTED ITS OWN DEMISE

On the morning of the vote, I asked a friend who they would be voting for – they knew that my preference in the last few years has been for the governance of Andrew Holness and the JLP.

They voted for the JLP once in 1980, and since then, they have been a supporter of the PNP. “Will you be voting?” I asked. They said no because they knew that the PNP would be losing. After casting my vote in Red Hills Square, I went to Sterling Castle Square to link up with people I knew, especially my Comrade acquaintances.

There was more than a smattering of them there – all masked up. One came over to me and whispered, “I know wi gwine lose, but a so it go.” And so my friend went out and voted PNP because it was his party and he had the freedom to do so.

It occurred to me that many PNP MPs and caretaker candidates knew that they were carrying not just the weight of their party on their shoulders, but a leader who must have known that he was burdening his own constituency representatives. Why could he not have faced that reality, lessened his own importance, and accepted that he had no hurrah left in him?

Instead, he attached his political expiration date to every single MP and caretaker candidate, even making the party the butt of jokes. Elon Parkinson posted on Facebook that the PNP can now easily practice social distancing in Parliament. Because of the severely reduced numbers there.

STIFLED DISSENT

All political parties require that those making up its MP roster and constituency caretakers ‘pay their dues’ before they have an effective voice in the party hierarchy. For months now, a few PNP members of parliament have been speaking with me privately about what they saw as the singular objective held by Dr Peter Phillips: that of carving his path to Jamaica House.

Phillips had gone too far towards attaining that objective. At his best times, he found himself being the de facto PM while Portia was prime minister. One could sense the unease that Phillips, a well-lettered man had with Simpson Miller, a lady of the people and hardly having any extra academic degrees to throw around.

In the months just before COVID 19 and during the contagion’s press on our lives and collective safety, Phillips must have read a sign or two and erroneously concluded that the times were made for him. He was warned by people like me that he was approaching political irrelevance and simply didn’t have the tools to renew the party’s base.

Mr Holness has collared the bucking horse, and there is no safe way out of this. The times will be tough, and he will have to ride this wild and mad bucking horse.

I wish him luck – he needs it.

And Dr Phillips should do the right thing now.

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