It was a political pandemic in 2020 - Electorates among the biggest losers
* JLP destroys PNP in general election * Women, nepotism, cronyism triumphant in 2020 * Electorates among the biggest losers
Twenty-twenty was the year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but Jamaica was hit by a second virus that took a deadly aim at the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP). A political virus manufactured in a lab at 20 Belmont Road, the headquarters of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Andrew Michael Holness, the JLP’s post-independence-born leader, slapped the PNP into political submission, delivering an almost fatal blow to the party its supporters say is still the party of ideas.
The JLP took 49 of the 63 seats that were available in the general election held on Thursday, September 3, and inflicted a beating not seen since its 51-9 whipping of the PNP in 1980; the PNP’s 52-8 thrashing in 1993 and its 50-10 slap in 1997 of the JLP.
Holness and the JLP returned the favour in 2020.
Held in the midst of the full-blown worldwide health crisis, the beating was brutal and it was quick. By 9:30 election night it was over and an hour later a political requiem was being held virtually for the PNP.
Holness led the JLP to its first back-to-back victory in general elections since 1967.
“Tonight, the victor is the people of Jamaica … You came out in your hundreds of thousands, and you participated in this solemn process of democracy; you voted, you expressed yourself through the ballot,” said Holness, inter alia, in an acceptance speech under mask, which has become part of the dress code of the new normal.
The defeat left the PNP headless, wingless and stingless, with its then leader Dr Peter Phillips forced to carry out his promise to step away if he did not lead the party to victory. Hours after the loss, he announced his decision to leave and paved the way for the November 7 special delegates’ conference to elect a new leader.
Called six months earlier than its February 2021 due date, no opinion polls predicted a victory for the PNP, despite their optimism ahead of the vote. The Sunday Gleaner was later told that the JLP expected a win but the magnitude of the swing was a surprise.
GREAT FOR THE JLP
JLP chairman Robert Montague described 2020 as a great one for the party.
“It was a very good year for us and the country. We won 49 seats, we have managed the health crisis well, and there were challenges but we overcame and became a better country,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
COVID-19 changed the face of political campaigning, as practised for decades, before the nation’s eyes. Politicians turned to social media to reach the populace. Older politicians, those versed in the old ways of campaigning, were forced to find creative ways of maintaining contact with constituents.
Campaigning switched from physical to digital, and younger politicians, who were more au fait with technology and social-media platforms, were well out of the blocks in the political race.
The September 3 swing and victory returned many to power who have been in politics a combined almost 300 years or more. They include Mike Henry, Karl Samuda, William J.C. Hutchinson, Audley Shaw, Olivia Grange, Dr Horace Chang, Dr Peter Phillips, Delroy Chuck, Phillip Paulwell, James Robertson, Dr Morais Guy, and Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert.
But it also took out veterans such a Dr Fenton Ferguson, who was seeking a seventh term; the likeable Horace Dalley; PNP vice-president Dr Wykeham McNeill; and swept away constituencies such as Manchester Southern, Kingston Central, and Westmoreland Western, much of which had been under PNP stewardship each for more than 40 years.
Montague said the party must keep its eyes on the prize.
“We must go forth into the new year positively, building on the successes of 2020. We must continue to hold the confidence of the people. We have a health crisis to manage, an economy to grow, and families to comfort. We believe that Jamaica’s best days are ahead of us,” he declared.
ANDREW HOLNESS – POLITICAL LEADER OF THE YEAR
Attorney-at-law Linton Gordon, now a senior political commentator, said Andrew Holness was the political leader of the year, given the JLP’s success, but the year ahead will define the country’s economic recovery efforts.
“I think he will have to continue the tight fiscal policies but at the same time, concurrent to that, the Government must address the outcry among the less fortunate. There is no doubt that there are increasing numbers of persons who are now destitute. Unemployment is increasing and they must find a way to address those needs. It is going to be a challenge, but they have to do it in order to provide opportunities for those at risk of being left behind,” Gordon stated.
The way forward for the PNP
A difficult journey ahead for leader Mark Golding
No country can be successfully run without an active, progressive and open-eyed Opposition, said trade unionist Helen Davis-Whyte. For her, the People’s National Party (PNP) began its salvaging efforts when, on November 7, party delegates elected Mark Golding, member of parliament (MP) for St Andrew South, as its sixth leader.
Golding beat St Ann South East MP Lisa Hanna for the position, which his mentor, Dr Omar Davies, whom he replaced in the constituency, said was no surprise.
“I chose him as my replacement,” Davies said on the day of the special election of Golding, who for years was immersed in running programmes in the constituency.
Golding, an apparent reluctant leader, was encouraged to enter the race to become PNP leader after supporting his friend and business partner Peter Bunting against Dr Peter Phillips a year earlier.
For years, the party has been afflicted by bouts of disunity, which is well documented in the public space in traditional and social media. Still, long-time PNP supporters say much is still hidden from the public for the party’s sake.
Nonetheless, the PNP has become victim of its own acerbic tongue, and supporters washed dirty political linen anywhere they could find an audience.
A DIFFICULT YEAR
PNP’s new chairman, Phillip Paulwell, said that 2020 was a “difficult year”.
“It has been a very difficult year for us as a political party, having suffered a devastating loss at the poll,” Paulwell told The Sunday Gleaner.
But he was optimistic for the future.
“Based on the recent feedback from the many members of the party, I am optimistic and confident that we should see better efforts to unite the party in 2021. We will therefore see an improvement in our fortunes, especially with the impending local government elections,” he said.
The party has been simmering on decades of fractiousness since the 2005 leadership contest, much of which was hidden because of electoral successes. But with subsequent losses, however, came the open wounds.
Retired PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller was challenged in 2008 by Peter Phillips, in a never-before-challenge to a sitting PNP leader.
Phillips later admitted that it was an ill-advised challenge, and one which paved the way for the challenge by Bunting on him in 2019.
Both challenges open malicious and painful political wounds in divisive campaigns, which have come to plague the party.
The astute Andrew Holness, in like fashion of former PNP leader P.J. Patterson, called the September 3 general election at the hilt of the division in the Opposition and executed the 49-14 wipeout.
MENDING THE PNP
Golding’s PNP presidential win is seen as a rise from the ashes, and armed with his Instrument of Office of Opposition Leader, he began to put administrative structures in place for the party to function.
Acutely aware of the urgent issues, he admitted that party unity is foremost and all efforts will be made to stem the haemorrhaging inside, mend fences and sow political fertiliser.
Senior political commentator Linton Gordon said the PNP is at the bottom of the disunity barrel.
“I don’t think the PNP can get any lower in terms of disunity. They must be at the bottom of the barrel now. They have new leadership at the top and the administrative level, and it is going to be up to them to halt the slide, stabilise the party and bring back some semblance of trust, admiration and respect on the part of Jamaicans and international allies. To achieve that, they are going to have to make a concerted effort to unify the party,” Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said the PNP must accept that there can only be one leader at a time.
“And now that the question of leadership has been settled, they must accept that those who never made it have a responsibility to respect and work with those in leadership at whatever level,” he stated.
In December, Golding’s effort to constitute the full slate of opposition senators hit a snag by the Norman Horne saga, the former PNP treasurer. Horne was named a senator by Phillips, in his final acts as leader, and many highly placed Comrades have sworn on their Bibles that Horne’s United States citizenship status was known by the party and “it was Phillips’ last lick at Golding”.
When Golding named Bunting to fill the Senate position Horne publicly said he was declining, the swearing-in could not be effected, as Horne had not officially resigned. It would take a further two weeks before Horne admitted he was a United States citizen and, therefore, not eligible to sit in the legislature. He later resigned and made the way for Bunting to be sworn in.
MORE THAN UNITY
Gordon said the PNP needs more than unity in the way forward.
“The PNP needs clear and unambiguous policies so that all and sundry can know where the party is going and where it wants to take the country. It needs a political vision clearly articulated in policies that can be followed and appreciated, especially in the troubling area of national security,” he suggested, adding that the party should move from calling for a crime plan to advancing a concrete and understandable policy for solving the crime problem.
Gordon said the Opposition should also clearly define in economic policies the areas of current government strategies they would support and the areas they would nix.
Foreign policy, he said, would continue to be choppy political waters and Jamaica should not assume that the incoming administration’s policies would be significantly different from the current one.
“I believe there is uniformity in getting rid of the administration in Venezuela, as it is seen as inconsistent with the Monroe Doctrine that foreign or European countries have no right to establish any foothold in the new world. The Joe Biden administration will continue that doctrine,” he stated.
Trade unionist Helen Davis-Whyte said 2020 “must be counted as the worst year for the party in several decades”.
“I think the only year that can be counted as worst than this for the PNP is the period leading up to and after the 1980 general election. I believe what surprised most Jamaicans was the level of divisiveness that was evident in the party. It was clear that it was growing for a time, but they were able to keep a lid on it. But it has cost them the election and I think it will cost them going forward,” the long-standing trade unionist said.
“They must take stock on where they are and where they need to go.”
Davis-Whyte said the party’s structures are outdated and unattractive to young and talented persons who want to serve in politics.
2020 the year of the political woman
A new wave of women was swept into representational politics in 2020.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) fielded a record number of women in the September 3 general election and was rewarded with seven newcomers in service to the country. The number of women on both sides of the political divide now serving in George William Gordon House is 18, fourteen of whom are sitting on the government benches.
RHODA MOY CRAWFORD – MP, MANCHESTER CENTRAL
The most celebrated winner was JLP’s Member of Parliament (MP) Rhoda Moy Crawford, who severed Peter Bunting’s grip on Manchester Central.
The educator created what was the biggest defeat of the general election when she took out the heavyweight Bunting, who, in 2019, lost by 76 votes for the leadership of the People’s National Party (PNP).
Crawford beat Bunting, who was a three-term MP, and succeeded where more formidable candidates, like former Director of Elections Danville Walker and former custos, Sally Porteous, failed. Crawford received 8,139 votes while Bunting received 6,989. Bunting polled more than 10,000 votes in the clash with Walker, who also polled in excess of the 10,000 electors.
TAMIKA DAVIS – MP BEATS IAN HAYLES IN HANOVER WESTERN
Attorney-at-law Tamika Davis took one swipe at the colourful Ian Hayles, who was a three-term PNP MP. Opinion polls suggested that Hayles would have been beaten and he was. Davis received 6,028 votes to Hayles’ 4,999.
TOVA HAMILTON – MP, TRELAWNY NORTHERN
The once-impregnable boundaries of the Trelawny constituency were seen as not accessible to the JLP, but Tova Hamilton made it look easy, taking it from Victor Wright. Hamilton ended the PNP’s 31-year grip on the constituency. Hamilton polled 8,508 votes to Wright’s 6,771. Independent candidate Genieve Dawkins received 51 votes.
KRYSTAL LEE – MP KNOCKED OUT DR DAYTON CAMPBELL
Krystal Lee took out PNP bigwig Dr Dayton Campbell in St Ann North West. Constituents admitted that Dr Campbell worked hard in his two terms, but he fell victim to the anti-PNP sentiments, his own “divisive comments in the leadership race”, and the fallout from the September 2019 PNP leadership challenge. Lee secured 7,821 votes to Campbell’s 5,783 for a decisive victory.
DR MICHELLE CHARLES – MP FOR ST THOMAS EASTERN RETIRES DR FENTON FERGUSON
Dr Michelle Charles, daughter of now-retired Pearnel Charles Sr, now sits in Gordon House, having exacted revenge on the PNP’s Dr Fenton Ferguson, who was seeking his seventh hold on the St Thomas Eastern constituency. Dr Charles sent Ferguson into retirement and passed judgement for her father’s defeat 27 years earlier. Charles polled 6,126 votes to Ferguson’s 5,392.
Ferguson beat Charles Sr in 1993 to end the JLP’s reign in the constituency for more than 40 years. Charles Sr would stay out of representational politics for nearly a decade until he surfaced in Clarendon North Central and won the seat in the 2002 polls.
Another of Charles’ daughter, Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman, was unsuccessful in her challenge to unseat Ferguson prior to her sister.
KERENSIA MORRISON – MP, ST CATHERINE NORTH EAST
JLP’s Kerensia Morrison had six weeks to campaign in the St Catherine North East constituency but went on to inflict a massive defeat on the PNP’s Oswest Senior-Smith, who has racked up a pile of defeats to date. Morrison polled 5,989 votes to Senior-Smith’s 3,312 to win by more than 2,000 votes. She replaced Leslie Campbell, who did not seek re-election. Campbell, an attorney-at-law, is now a senator and junior minister in the foreign ministry.
MARSHA SMITH AND JLP KEEP CONTROL OF ST ANN NORTH EAST
Marsha Smith, a newcomer, polled 9,059 votes to defeat the PNP’s Keith Brown, who polled 4,887 in St Ann North East. The seat was previously held by Shahine Robinson, who died early in the year.
Smith is now junior minister in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.
Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert and Juliet Holness are speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively. Dalrymple-Philibert previously held the position, but it is the first time that both positions are being held by women.
House speaker Violet Neilson was the pioneer in that role, chosen in 1997. Juliet Holness is the wife of the prime minister.
Other women on the government side of the House include the veteran Olivia Grange, Fayval Williams, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, Marlene Malahoo Forte, and Ann-Marie Vaz.
For the PNP, Natalie Neita, Lisa Hanna, Denise Daley, and Angela Brown Burke survived.
The September 3 general election record for women beat the 12 who were elected in 2016. That number is three times those elected in 1962, and four times those elected in 1989-93. Up to then, only 40 women had previously been elected members of parliament since independence. It has increased to 47.
Women now make up 29 per cent of the Lower House and 38 per cent of the Upper House.
Half of the Opposition’s eight senators are women and include the youngest in history, 23-year-old Senator Gabriela Morris. The others are attorneys-at-law Donna Scott-Mottley and Sophia Frazer-Binns, and Janice Allen, a business development consultant.
Four of the 13 on the Government benches are women. They are Kamina Johnson Smith, who is also the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade; attorney-at-law Sherene Golding-Campbell, the daughter of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding; Dr Saphire Longmore, who is returning; and Natalie-Campbell-Rodriques, who failed in her bid to unseat Natalie Neita in St Catherine North Central.
Mia Mottley, PM of Barbados, is Regional Leader of the Year
Mia Mottley has worn the pants in the Caribbean region since her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) swept to power in 2018, winning every contested seat in the general election that wiped out the Opposition.
Mottley has not been afraid to voice strong views on efforts by external forces to divide and rule the region, and even harsher words for countries that allowed themselves to be led. During Barbados’ chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), she made it clear that her country was not for sale and her people would not be exploited for profit.
Her government has also begun the removal of some of the vestiges of slavery by Britain in the country.
Dr David Commissiong, Barbados ambassador to CARICOM, calls her a Caribbean patriot.
“Mia Mottley is deeply rooted in history, culture and heritage, a true native of Barbados and the region. Not only does she have a deep knowledge of that history, culture and heritage, but she has a genuine appreciation of its worth and value. This has generated in her a remarkable sense of personal self-confidence and self-worth, and also a deep belief in the worth and capacity of her people – the Barbadian and wider Caribbean,” said Commissiong.
Linton Gordon, attorney-at-law and senior political commentator, agrees.
“She has shown originality and bravery, which is really needed in the region to remind the world that we may be small and poor but we are not up for sale and simplistic direction by anyone else,” Gordon stated.
“Mia Mottley for sure,” said trade unionist Helen Davis-Whyte of who was her pick for Regional Leader of the Year.
“Mottley has brought life to CARICOM, which has developed a reputation of stagnancy over the years. She has demonstrated that she is a leader who will say things that need to be said, irrespective if she is stepping on toes,” she said.
Barbados, Davis-Whyte said, has taken the mantle of speaking on regional issues, such as the Venezuelan political situation, in areas where Jamaica was highly regarded.
ELECTIONS ACROSS THE REGION
Trinidad and Tobago, which held general election in August last year, returned the Keith Rowley administration to power. Rowley will now assume the chairmanship of CARICOM for the next six months, succeeding Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, who was also returned to power in elections held late last year.
While the Caribbean region held peaceful elections and results were accepted, the great United States of America and its one-term president Donald J. Trump is still disputing the elections held in November.
President-elect Joe Biden Jr and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will assume office on January 20.