THE ACQUISITION of State Power is a critical task of political parties. To acquire power in a democratic state, the ability to win elections is crucial. The methods applied in the course of winning of elections can have a significant influence on the way State Power is used.
The Peoples' National Party (PNP) will meet in its 65th Annual Conference in September against the background of having won the majority of the General Elections held since the granting of Adult Suffrage in 1944. Winning eight of the fourteen held so far, the Party did not contest the 1983 elections.
THE 1983 BOYCOTT
With a reasonable chance of winning, it nevertheless boycotted those elections. This was on the basis that a prior agreement with the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Government that no new General Elections would have been held prior to a revised voters list was not honoured. This election was called in mid-term by the JLP in response to a call by the PNP for the resignation of the Minister of Finance who was also the Prime Minister.
The question of the PNP's participation was vigorously debated at the Party's National Executive Council's (NEC) meeting prior to the December 1983 snap elections.
Having lost massively to the JLP in October 1980, the PNP had recovered significant political ground primarily through its rebuilding programme and the continuing popularity of its leader Michael Manley. By September of 1982 the PNP was leading the JLP in the national public opinion polls. At the very least the PNP, even if not acquiring State Power, would have significantly increased its number of parliamentary seats - which then stood at nine. In the end, the Party decided that winning was not everything.
THE 1980 CALL
This kind of approach to party politics and the winning of elections had precedence in the way the October 1980 General Elections were called. By December 1979 after only three years into the PNP's second term the Prime Minister had decided to face the electorate . The fundamental reason was the economy.
Having overwhelmingly won the December 15, 1976 General Elections the party was immediately faced with the dilemma of the Government entering into an Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This explicitly required some draconian measures - most of which were in stark contradiction to the party's themes and positions taken during the election campaign. Strident debates inside the Government were, however, resolved in favour of the IMF programme. By 1979 social dislocation arising from these programmes and the public mood exacerbated by actions of the opposition led to a situation where the ability to govern was diminishing.
The date for new elections could not be announced since the new Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) was in the process of revamping the electoral system including the preparation of a new voters list. Having been advised that this process could be at a stage by July of 1980 to allow for elections - the Prime Minister announced on February 3, 1980 that elections would be held as soon as the EAC advised him of their readiness. As it turned out, they were not held until October only because the system was not ready.
The Prime Minister knew that the chances of a third consecutive term were very slim. Work in the Party led to alternative economic programmes being proposed. As he put it in his book Struggle In The Periphery "it was beyond question that by the act of March 1980 (i.e. the break with the IMF) - the PNP had recovered its soul - at least as far as the rank and file were concerned". Winning was not everything.
In addition, one year after a massive victory in the 1959 General Elections the PNP President called a Referendum on Jamaica's participation in the West Indies Federation. This was done after the JLP changed its stand on Federation even though they had participated in the Federal Elections of 1958. Many PNP leaders were upset with the call but the Party President - felt that winning was not everything.
To consolidate this approach to democracy and party politics, the PNP President Norman Manley put the party on the line by calling a General Election in 1962 to allow the country to decide which party would lead Jamaica into Political Independence. He still had two years to go constitutionally, in his term of office. Winning was not everything.
As the political spotlight focuses on the PNP in September, there is talk of renewal, speculation as to the outcome of Vice Presidential contests and how all of this will impact on the leadership succession. The Party could remind itself of the words of its President in the 1970's:
"-Left to themselves, political parties quickly degenerate into machines for attacking opponents, distributing the spoils of office and electing candidates-"
One Love, One Heart.
A dental surgeon - Dr. D.K. Duncan is a former Cabinet Minister and General Secretary in the PNP Administration of the 1970's.