Jamaica's political parties should aim for the moral high ground

Monday, September 18, 2017

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Believe it or not, it's already close to 19 months since the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won the February 2016 parliamentary elections by a single seat.

Fears that the razor-thin margin would have led to instability have so far proven unfounded, underlining the strength of Jamaica's democracy and the gradual maturing of the adversarial two-party system.

No doubt conscious of how easily irresponsible action could take the nation over the edge, Jamaicans have seen the two political parties show an admirable willingness to put the country first in their approach to parliamentary business. The recent passage of the thorny anti-crime zones of special operations Bill stands as a prime example of good sense from parliamentarians of opposing sides.

Of course, the need for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to reorganise itself following the shock 2016 loss and the leadership change from Mrs Portia Simpson Miller to Dr Peter Phillips meant that the party had no interest in pushing too hard against Mr Andrew Holness's Government.

However, indications are that the PNP is well on the way in terms of reinforcing internal unity and setting a forward agenda.

Such gestures may seem small and symbolic to some, but the formal introduction of Dr Peter Phillips by Mrs Simpson Miller at yesterday's public session of the PNP's Annual Conference was meant to send a message that all is well.

And Dr Phillips was quick to tell Comrades that the party is “energised, renewed and refreshed” and ready to take on the challenge of by-elections whenever they are called.

Since St Andrew Southern and St Andrew South Western are solid PNP garrisons, Jamaicans expect the Opposition will easily retain those seats, previously held respectively by Dr Omar Davies and Mrs Simpson Miller — both now retired from representational politics.

The one that's up for grabs is St Mary South Eastern, which became vacant when the PNP's Dr Winston Green died suddenly last month. Political followers will recall that Dr Green won that seat by five votes ahead of the JLP's Dr Norman Dunn.

Inevitably, the contest between the PNP's Dr Shane Alexis and Dr Dunn will be seen as a sign — albeit from a small geographical region — of public approval for the Government. Should the JLP win the seat, it will be perceived as a big boost for the Government. Should the PNP retain the seat, and especially if it does so by a substantial majority, there will be an opposite reaction.

Jamaicans can expect a robust effort by both parties to come out on top in St Mary South Eastern. Already, we note heated debate about roadwork projects there.

The two parties should bear in mind, however, that Jamaicans are weary of the old-style, divide-and-rule, tribalistic approach.

In that respect, this newspaper welcomes the message from Dr Phillips yesterday that his party must not be just about winning political power but more so should be about serving the people and building a better Jamaica.

This newspaper believes that most Jamaicans in 2017 are wishful of holding both political parties to that high standard.




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