Do not write the PNP obituary just yet


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Coming out of the last by-elections in Portland Eastern with more than a bloody nose, the People's National Party (PNP) has been bruised, battered, and, for some, seems headed for the scrap heap. Its leader, Dr Peter Phillips, is a man besieged especially by the judicious, and in some instances injudicious criticisms, of much of the younger population in the party who believe that his expiry date has long come. Having lost the last election there are those who are clamouring for him to hit the exit door. They bemoan his style of leadership in the digital age. In fact, if the PNP's Youth Organisation should have its way, most of the top-tier leadership of the party would be sent packing to be replaced by younger and ostensibly more agile and relevant individuals.

What is happening in the PNP is not quite unlike the sins that beset a party in Opposition. Then, misdeeds are clearly seen; ineptness duly underscored; a tendency to listlessness and drift an ever present reality; and blames by the bundle as to who is responsible for the party's seeming demise abundant. Some of the criticisms that have been coming to the PNP's leadership are duly merited. For some time now, interested critics have derided the party's departure from its core principles enshrined in its founding charter. The party has become a mere vote-getting machine, and even then its organizational ability to win elections is on the wane.

The party has tethered itself to a moribund democratic socialism that does not meet the pragmatism of politics in the digital age. It is still bent on massive socialist indulgences without seeing that the people have become distrustful of the ability of any party to dole out goodies. People have come to the practical recognition of the limitations of resources to meet these overwrought socialist promises. Gone are the days when politicians are able to deliver, if they ever could, on the grandiose promises that they make.

The PNP is caught in a time warp of its own making. It will take bold leadership to extricate itself from the ennui that has set in. Many have come to the position that bolder, younger leadership is what is demanded. It is leadership that will shake up the very innards of the party and breathe new life into its decaying tissues. The old jaded ways of doing things will not suffice. The organizational machinery of the party -- which is bent on doing business as usual and which has led to much bickering and infighting -- needs to be shaken up. Norman Manley's party is in need of a new, dynamic paradigm shift that will see it breaking free from the shackles of the old-style politics that has it in its grasp, to a more dynamic and even risky thrust into a future that is more promising.

How the party does this will not be easy. It will have to overcome the suspicion and even open hostility that has emerged between the older and younger members and create a greater atmosphere for collaboration. There is no doubt that the older members view the agitations of the younger ones as irritating if not intrusive and downright feisty. But they must understand that the young are in no mood to be deterred from what they see as the needed renovation and rehabilitation of the creaking structures of a decaying party.

And old and creaky it is. It is like renovating an old house. To get a structure worthy of the future there are areas that have to be gutted and torn down. These may be sections that one had grown fond of and by reasons of nostalgia would want to preserve, even when common sense and rationality indicate their removal. There are old supporting beams and columns that have to be pulled down because of dry rot or damage caused by the infestation of termites. These will have to be replaced by newer ones. If one persists in keeping the old supporting structures it will not be long before one will have to deal with the inevitable consequences of poor decision making that dictated their removal. One can either paper over the cracks and provide the façade of a strong and sturdy building, or take the resolute measures necessary, as the prophet Jeremiah said, to tear down and to build up.

Of course, political parties are about people and one has to navigate between immense egos and viewpoints that may not comport with one's own. So the (re)building of a party will take the efforts of a main contractor who can be humble enough to recognise his or her own limitations and resilient enough to take the blows of criticism when he/she steps out of line.

Despite the internal problems in the PNP people would be cautioned not to be too willing to write its political obituary. The two main political parties that have held power in Jamaica since Independence are very resilient and have a strong pedigree of bouncing back. I remember the turmoil in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) under the too-long tenure of Edward Seaga. Long knives were drawn and plunged in the body politic of that party, yet, out of the decaying structure that the party became, and at the feisty insistence for change by the young Turks, change came and the party was able to regain power and become the strong party it is today.

So the PNP can rebound, but it will have to overcome backstabbing, recrimination and the internecine squabbling among factions in the party. The present leadership's single and most important task is to unite the party around a set of principles and philosophy that most can buy into. Cliquism must give way to a broader participation of perceived friends and foes alike. After all, in a political party given to democratic aspirations, the views of the few cannot prevail over those of the many. The party must cease putting out fires where there are none, creating mountains out of mole hills, and cease scratching in areas where it is clearly not itching.

There is work to be done but it takes decisive leadership of equanimity and magnanimity to take the reins and truly “run wid it”. Phillips may or may not be the person to do it, but there has to be someone who can command the trust and confidence of a wide section of the party to become leader and do what is necessary.


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

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