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Golding's exit may be JLP's checkmate

Published:Monday | September 26, 2011 | 12:00 AM

In The Sunday Gleaner of May 23, 2010, four days before my brother Keith was killed in a misdirected search for Dudus, I stated that Bruce Golding had lost his legitimacy as a political leader. In my article titled 'The politics of subterfuge', I argued that Golding had crossed the Rubicon of trust with the Jamaican people when he weaved his web of deception designed to protect Dudus from extradition. I stated:

"As an astute politician, he (Golding) should know that having breached the trust on which his ability to govern rests, he is now rendered a lame duck, a leader whom no one will follow.

"For Jamaica to weather the current economic storm and for our people to accept the pain they have been asked to bear under the austerity of the International Monetary Fund, we will require credible leadership. The exposure of Mr Golding's untrustworthiness in the Dudus extradition and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips affairs has disqualified him from playing that role. In the country's interest, we should be looking for a new leader in whom the people can have confidence."

Politics being an institution dominated by self-interest, the advice was not countenanced. But after the debacle of the Manatt enquiry and K.D. Knight's humiliation of the prime minister on the witness stand, the proverbial men in grey suits of the JLP had to act. It became clear to them that the interest of the party was now at stake and that Golding's removal from the leadership was necessary if their interests, which they were convinced were secure for at least two electoral terms, were not to be compromised.

It has taken a year and four months for the men in grey suits to visit him, but Mr Golding has at last been shown the door. No doubt they believe they have been able to securely tie the political deadweight of Dudus, Manatt and the people's loss of trust in the party to him, and jettisoned the leader from what was fast becoming a sinking ship.

Political nightmare for PNP

Normally, the demise of the leader of a political party would redound to the benefit of his political opponents. In fact, the PNP had begun to build a very effective campaign around the image of sending Mr Golding packing ("Pack your bags and go"). But the actualisation of that desire might become a political nightmare for the Opposition.

With Golding's departure, the JLP has effectively pressed the political reset button and will be able to completely recast its image. With the PNP having failed to do the same in its four years in Opposition, while it waited for the fruit of political victory to fall from the tree, the move to remove Golding could be 'check' in the political chess game. It could very easily be soon 'checkmate', depending on how the JLP manages the succession.

Golding's departure has spared the country the anguish of having to endure an untrustworthy leader for perhaps another year. But while the JLP has been handed a glorious opportunity to reimage, it could create a torture even worse for the country than the Dudus-Manatt affair was if it does not handle the process of succession and the choice of successor intelligently.

The decision of the prime minister to step down is perhaps the most outstanding display of democracy in our political history. A prime minister acknowledging the loss of public trust in so tangible a manner has no precedent in Jamaica and is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's resignation following her loss of public support as a result of the despised poll tax. It demonstrates that despite our penchant for putting down our politics, democracy is alive and well in Jamaica.

Making the right choice

However, all the benefits of this unprecedented political development could be lost if the unruly, even violent electioneering activities that have characterised some of the JLP's past leadership challenges should emerge in the race to replace Golding. The JLP and the country would have lost everything, and gained nothing, from this important advance in our democracy.

Choosing the right leader for the times will be equally important. Most would agree that for a variety of reasons, only three candidates recommend themselves at this time: Audley Shaw, Andrew Holness and Chris Tufton. Obviously, they have differing strengths and weaknesses. But what they all offer is something for which the people of this country have been clamouring for many years: a break from the ugly politics of the past.

The JLP should choose wisely. How it chooses and how the PNP responds will determine whether it will be checkmate to the JLP; or simply a stalemate with the upcoming elections being the decider.

Claude Clarke is a businessman and former minister of trade. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.