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One-seat margin no special challenge, says Ashley - Political commentator advises Holness to focus on passing IMF tests

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Dr Paul Ashley... I look forward to the day when we have two leaders at the helm who are women.
Maxine Henry-Wilson addresses a Gleaner Editors' Forum while Bert Samuels looks on.

The razor-thin majority enjoyed by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in Parliament has prompted speculation about the ability of the Andrew Holness administration to govern effectively, given its one-seat (32-31) win in the February 25 general election.

With only this one-vote edge, concerns have been raised that the parliamentary process could be derailed and efforts by the Government to pass critical legislation stalled if some of its members are absent from sittings of Parliament and it is unable to get the support of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP).

Political commentator Dr Paul Ashley has, however, rubbished this as a non-issue, arguing that the new prime minister should focus on governance issues, rather than pandering to individual and party concerns.

Ashley insisted, during a Gleaner Editors' Forum held at the company's North Street, Kingston, offices last week, that the Westminster parliamentary model anticipates and provides for such situations.

"I don't know if there is any difference between one, two, three or four, because you always have the challenge of people crossing the floor," Ashley said.

"You always have the problem of meeting expectations. I see the administration has to make sure it doesn't fail any of the other remaining [International Monetary Fund] tests. Then, afterwards, you try to govern with the other things. But right now, the overarching problem is pass the blinking test."




In the meantime, Maxine Henry-Wilson, a former education minister and long-standing member of the PNP, said she believed the party, in fulfilling its role as parliamentary Opposition, has no obligation to follow the JLP agenda.

For this reason, she said the concern that the administration could encounter opposition from the PNP, just for the sake of opposing its programmes, is very real.

"Debating is all right; everybody can talk. But if you have to vote on an issue and the speaker has to be casting a vote (every time), then it becomes problematic. However, it can be managed ... but he must try to build consensus about critical national issues," the former parliamentarian said.

Veteran attorney-at-law Frank Phipps, Queen's Counsel, wants the new prime minister to focus on the task of governing with fixity of purpose and not allow himself to be distracted.

"He just has to continue the course and, if the majority in Parliament has no confidence (in him), he resigns."

In the event of unwarranted opposition from the PNP on matters of critical national importance, the advice from attorney-at-law Bert Samuels is that Holness should aim to out manoeuvre the party.

"If Mr Holness is smart, he will make the moves that he wants to make that are opposed by the People's National Party in the Parliament, make them look as if they are not acting in the interest of the country. Because if he is trying to put a policy in place and it is opposed for opposing sake, then the PNP could lose face with the people."