An election mandate with grave responsibilities

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An election mandate with grave responsibilities

Raulston
Nembhard

Thursday, September 10, 2020

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The people have spoken resoundingly and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has won the 18th parliamentary elections with a landslide. Various polls had suggested this landslide, but the seismic wipeout of the People's National Party (PNP) is not something that many anticipated. Only a few, like pollster Bill Johnson, prophesied a 50-seat win for the JLP.

For a good while the writing was on the wall that the JLP would be returned for a second term. I had argued in this space that such victory would be based on largely three imperatives: How the Government has been handling the pandemic, which party is best able to handle the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, and the credibility of incumbency.

I had also suggested that the people were not in a mood for a change of Government. This was in line with the imperatives mentioned above. When a country is in a deep economic and medical crisis it can hardly be expected that people would opt for a change of Government, especially if the incumbent has been doing a fairly good job. This is also the case when people do not believe that they can rest their future in the hands of a party that is still very divided and which would want to dole out goodies without any real economic sustainability to do so.

So, “Brogad,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness, now has tremendous political capital. He struck the right tones in his acceptance of the massive mandate. It was tinged with the requisite humility of one who recognised that he will now carry a burden much greater than he had before the election. Thus, it was a speech that showed an appreciation of the gravity of the overwhelming responsibility that his party was given. It was not a time for boasting or rubbing salt into the injury the PNP had sustained. He was magnanimous in victory as he reached out to the PNP to join with him in the work ahead, without malice.

Part of the humility that tempered Holness's acceptance of his mandate was the recognition that, while he had a resounding victory, a large portion of the voting population did not participate in the polls. He did not put this down to COVID-19 only, but to the apathy that attends voting in Jamaica. Too many people have withdrawn from the political process. We cannot build a vibrant democracy in a country where so many people sit on the fence. And the reasons for the apathy are multifaceted; one of the chief being the vexing problem of corruption in the country.

The first order of business for the new Administration is to aggressively deal with the troubling spread of the virus. The Ministry of Health is now convinced that we are now experiencing the community transmission phase of the virus. This is very worrying, especially when one considers that there will be a post-election spike. The attention to the viral spread must be done in concert with a short-term budgetary strategy for the economy. So, there will not be any respite; the new Administration will have to hit the road running.

What now of the PNP? With major stalwarts in the party such as Peter Bunting, Wykeham McNeill, and Fenton Ferguson losing their seats in the Parliament, the party is in more than a spot of bother. The party proved it was no match for the organising ability of the JLP. The ghosts of the last leadership contest lingered. It was clear, too, that the PNP's manifesto was not well thought out, but quickly put together to win votes. The people saw through this and found their promises incredible.

The most significant thing for them is to prepare for a leadership change since Dr Peter Phillips had indicated that he would be resigning as president and from the Parliament, and has gone ahead to formally do so.

Who will emerge? Phillip Paulwell is now the senior parliamentarian of the PNP detritus in the Parliament. One can be sure that he will be in the running as he has shown in the past that he harbours notions of being the party's president. But as the youthful exuberant one, he has had his fair share of scandals which have left him damaged politically.

Julian Robinson may be another worthy contender. So too will Lisa Hanna, if she survives the magisterial recount of votes in her constituency. Mark Golding appears to be the more formidable of the lot, but he seems a reluctant warrior. But there comes a time when the ineluctable call of history imposes constraints on an individual which cannot be easily brushed aside. Will Golding answer the call at this time? We will see.

One cannot yet rule out Peter Bunting. It is clear that he cannot be the leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition since he will not be in Parliament, and that office is a parliamentary constitutional office. Leader of the PNP is not. So, as was the case with Bruce Golding when he became leader of the JLP after leaving the National Democratic Movement, so it can be with Bunting outside the Parliament. But will he have the stomach for the job at this time? He has the ambition to be president, but does he have the fight in him to pursue what may well turn out to be a bloody battle for the presidency. Again, time will tell.

What is clear is that, after such a shellacking, the party has to go back to the drawing board. It has the best time now to heal, to rediscover its philosophical footing and its raison d'être. It is not a time for infighting and recrimination. This is a critical time for the party and all well-thinking Jamaicans must wish it well as it heals and reorganises.

As one of the two major parties that have served the people as Government, it is necessary that we have a vibrant Opposition. This column thanks Dr Peter Phillips for his contribution to Jamaica. When all is said and done, by any fair measure, he has served the country well. We wish him a good future with good health.

As we seek to protect our fragile democratic traditions and our way of life, there will be the urgent need for the vigilance of civil society as it works with the PNP to keep the JLP Government in check. The prime minister has signalled that corruption will not be tolerated, but you can be sure as night follows day that with such an overwhelming mandate there are those who will be tempted. Some will succumb. The prime minister will have to be resolute. The people of Jamaica must be even more so to ensure that power does not further corrupt and cripple an already fragile society. I wish Holness and his Government nothing but the best as they seek to build a fair and just society of which we all can be proud.

 

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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