Political turning points

Published: Sunday | January 13, 2013 Comments 0

Gary Spaulding, Political Affairs Reporter

The year 2013 has produced two significant milestones in Jamaica's history as it marks the 75th anniversary of two noteworthy events that influenced the transformation of Jamaica's socio-political landscape.

The labour uprising of May 1938 served as the springboard for the launch of the People's National Party (PNP) in September of that year, putting real meaning to its 'rising sun' symbol.

These milestones must be regarded as significant in 2013, as they come mere months after the Jamaica 50 celebrations.

Ironically, these three milestones coincide with a significant turning point in Jamaica's socio-economic development, given the glaring challenges that have emerged in talks with the International Monetary Fund and our country's precarious position.

In the scheme of things, some recent developments have raised questions about the true level of Jamaica's Independence in both economic and social spheres.

With the National Workers' Union being an offshoot of Norman Manley's social democratic and social liberal PNP that emerged in the aftermath of the 1938 upheavals that supposedly ushered in a new dawn for ordinary Jamaicans, the time has come for some serious introspection by the trade union movement.

This is especially necessary in light of fears in some quarters that the death knell is sounding for a movement whose leaders are languishing in stubborn denial.

The PNP, traditionally positioned to the Left of the JLP, ideologically, is the oldest political party in the English-speaking Caribbean which embraced regionalism as a way forward for Jamaica at a time when a united Europe struggled to materialise in the aftermath of World War II.

These days, however, Jamaica languishes at a crossroads under the guidance of a PNP administration that appears to be neither Left, nor Right, nor Centre.

SOUL-SEARCHING

To this extent, deep, meaningful and aggressive soul-searching is definitely needed among Comrades to determine a sensible way forward, for as far as political ideologies are concerned, the PNP appears to be in recession - a far cry from the days of Norman Manley and his son Michael.

After sharing the spoils with the Jamaica Labour Party on successive double terms, the PNP has produced three prime ministers since its founding president, Norman Washington Manley, commanded the attention of the colonial masters, which eventually led to universal adult suffrage in 1944, then Independence in 1962.

Over the past seven and a half decades, and in spite of the easing of fierce ideological differences, Jamaica continues to wrestle with balancing weighty developmental issues and has been found wanting.

Vastly different have been the leadership styles and foci of the three prime ministers that the PNP has produced.

The charismatic Michael Manley reigned twice, starting in 1972, propelling Jamaica on the path of democratic socialism before losing in 1980 and returning triumphantly in 1989 before he was finally ousted by health challenges in 1992.

Manley was succeeded by P.J. Patterson, the longest-reigning prime minister (1992-2006) followed by popular (and populist?), down-to-earth leader, Portia Simpson Miller.

The latter has, in her own right, created history as the first female prime minister of Jamaica, though she has served, cumulatively, less than three years since her ascension to the lofty political heights in 2006.

Through it all, economic and, to some extent, crime challenges continued to be the bane of successive PNP administrations, despite its social ideals.

NICHOLSON ON TARGET

PNP stalwart A.J. Nicholson was on target in his assertion in the lead-up to the 2011 general election that the current era was not in need of a messianic leader; rather, one that is able to generate consensus.

Ironically, Nicholson was batting for Simpson Miller, who was elected a year ago by the people to usher the nation through the challenges that have clashed with the 75th anniversary of the PNP and the watershed industrial relations period of 1938.

Tragically, the modern era signifies a period when the curse of venality appears to be at its highest in the wider public domain and remains deeply entrenched in the political landscape. Venality is the condition of being susceptible to bribery or corruption or the use of a position of trust for dishonest gain. This claim is corroborated by the rhetoric of politicians themselves, who constantly trade blame about which group is more corrupt.

The accompanying levels of arrogance appear to be the curse of Jamaica's existence over the period and begs the question: Are Jamaicans prepared to do a new thing?

More specifically, can Portia Simpson Miller summon the strength to marshal the energies of the people to propel the country on to a new path?

In the scheme of things, there must be an acknowledgement that Jamaica is turning on its axis in a rather peculiar way.

Simply put, the PNP cannot afford to rest on its laurels of having created history by winning four consecutive general elections between 1989 and 2007.

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs reporter and winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.

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