People's National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller presides over her first annual conference of the party this weekend with elections on everyone's mind. It is a time for the party to put itself on show as an organisation, not just one preparing for elections but, more importantly, one prepared with the ideas and organisation to lead the country to the quality society it has promised. It took the party 17 years to win its first general elections. It has now reversed this by governing for 17 consecutive years.
It will need to show that it is not just the same old party. In fact, this has been a year of renewal. The party has a new president and has now elected three new vice-presidents. About half of its parliamentary candidates are new. This weekend the party has begun to set its new direction by studying reports from party organs and officers as to the state of the organisation,
discussed ideas for its election
manifesto, introduced its candidates to the gathering, begin to set the tone for its election message and to pump up its campaign organisation and general party spirit. The party has already selected its campaign team. The president now only wants the party to tell her when it is ready for elections.
It has been a very good year for the PNP. It goes into this conference leading the JLP in recent polls, and Portia Simpson Miller is leading Bruce Golding head-to-head on a number of leadership criteria. The most recent Don Anderson poll of last week confirmed that the PNP is ahead among both the decided and undecided voters. It leads the JLP by 48.8 per cent to 41.7 per cent even after the JLP has started campaigning and it has not. The party is also attracting more former JLP and NDM members than the other way around. This has happened at all levels with Verna Parchment in the House, Norman Horne in the Senate, and Benny White on the Portland Parish Council. The PNP has attracted at least two former independent parish councilors and even the Independent Member of Parliament, Abe Dabdoub, is leaning heavily towards the party.
Social and economic
The PNP also goes into the
conference able to report that
murders have gone down by more than 20 per cent for the year, much better than the police themselves had anticipated. The Minister of National Security does not want to say that we have turned the corner on crime but the party can at least be less defensive on this issue. Recent reports from international credit rating agencies and the IMF have given sympathetic reports on the economy, with commendations for disciplined fiscal management, and one could even see some cautious optimism, but certainly no doom and gloom.
The inflation rate was reported at 4.7 per cent for the year up to August, well below the 8.7 per cent for the same period last year. The IMF seems to believe that economic growth, which it suspects is underreported anyway, might turn out even higher than the Finance Ministry has projected. The Agriculture Minister reported a strong recovery in the sector and we have been spared a hurricane so far, which gives the sector badly needed breathing space. At Denbigh, Minister Clarke reported that agriculture had led economic growth with 24 per cent in the first quarter and 30 per cent in the second. The IMF accepts that the poverty rate was halved between 1990 and 2005. The recent World Travel Awards effectively said that the tourism industry was to the world and the Caribbean what Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson are to athletics - world-beaters. We topped the awards as a world cruise destination. Air Jamaica was the leading Caribbean airline, the Jamaica Tourist Board was the leading tourism agency, Sandals Resorts was the top hotel brand, and Ocho Rios was named Jamaica's leading resort. New records for visitor arrivals
A year of difference
Last year this time things
were not good. Hurricanes struck frequently. Gloom and doom
surrounded the sugar industry. Portmore organisers were fussing over their highway. Crime was on the way to a record year. Bad weather was throwing economic
targets off track. Oil prices were
spiralling to new heights. The PNP was quietly separating into different campaign teams. But we made it through.
Now investors are lining up to bid for the sugar estates and sugar prices are at a 25-year high. The Portmore Highway is open and we have money from Venezuela to move ahead with the Highway through St. Catherine to Ocho Rios. Oil prices are still way too high but our own exploration for oil and natural gas is under way and the Brazilians are optimistic enough to have joined the hunt. Murder is down and the new finger- print machine will help to push it down even further. We have been spared the seven named weather systems so far. The PNP completed its presidential elections and has settled down again.
International credit agencies do not expect an election to harm the economy, which is also a way of saying they do not believe any special political spending in the election season will throw the economy off. Even the major economic setback of the year - the cement crisis - has been resolved with new supplies now coming on the market.
Doing the Right Thing
Still, there are many uncommitted voters who, though leaning to the PNP, must be convinced. Some people feel the Prime Minister has not been vocal enough. The MoU is holding but under some strain. Crime fighting still has a far way to go. Carnal abuse has increased by 30 per cent this year. The cement crisis has hurt the economy and we must build another factory. We should not discard Air Jamaica but we must turn it around quickly. We must absorb the lessons of Whitehouse and study the request of the Contractor General for greater powers. We need to continue to bring down the public debt and interest rates, and make investments translate into stronger growth.
The Prime Minister has made many new international friends at the recent Non-Aligned Summit where she said that governments must find the will and the ways to 'do the right thing'. Her speech was one of the best received and important leaders made it a point to meet her personally.
She took her domestic message to the Non-Aligned Movement. She spoke of the need for people's empowerment; the need to balance people's lives; to treat women's issues as a priority; to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by attacking poverty; and rallied the 118 members through the voice of Marcus Garvey, quoting him, 'Up you mighty nations, you can accomplish what you will'.
This is a good message to resound in Jamaica as well. Her theme at the NAM was for governments to 'do the right thing'. The PNP conference and election campaign will need to convince those undecided Jamaicans that it can do the right thing to make community governance work, ensure that the political process is more open and accountable; see to it that international trade is right for local
businesses; and convince voters that the party is the right one for providing more effective representation at all levels.
Robert Buddan is a lecturer in the department of government at the University of the West Indies. Email Robert.Buddan@uwimona .edu.jm