The unfair criticisms of Lisa Hanna simply do not hold any water


The unfair criticisms of Lisa Hanna simply do not hold any water

By Anselm Caines

Monday, October 12, 2020

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As the People's National Party (PNP) seeks to pick up the pieces of its frail and fractured party, having suffered an enormous defeat at the polls on September 3, 2020, much debate abounds as to who within the party is best positioned to place it on the path of redemption and renewal. In this thrust, two leading candidates have emerged — Mark Golding and Lisa Hanna — and, as expected, and as it should be, it promises to be a keen and spirited contest for the heart, soul, and direction of Norman Manley's 82-year-old political party.

However, while the debate which emerges from both camps should entail a passionate display of ideas and perspectives as to why each contender is best suited to be the new president of the PNP, those sentiments should also be rooted in accuracy, soundness, and appropriate context.

Regrettably, I have heard several oft-repeated arguments put forward as potential disqualifying factors why Hanna should not be party president, and they are arguments which simply falter under the weight of sound scrutiny and meticulous inspection. I intend to address two of them in this commentary.

Hanna's past affiliation with the JLP

Jamaica has had a long and sordid history with the hard-line, tribalism of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) vs PNP politics, which wreaked untold violence and pain upon many families and the wider Jamaican society, particularly during the 1970s, and as such all vestiges of it should be shunned in totality. But to essentially punish Hanna because of her much-antiquated affiliation with the JLP, which in no doubt was influenced, and rightfully so, by her support of her then husband, who was a senator and prominent member of the JLP, is simply myopic.

To be sure, I agree with the sentiments expressed by Mark Golding that, as a four-term Member of Parliament (MP) under the banner of the PNP, and a former Cabinet minister within the PNP Administration, Hanna is more than eligible and within her right to justly challenge for any position within the party. And, might I add, she should be given equal accord and consideration, as would be afforded to any other leadership aspirant. What is more is that, in circumstances in which the PNP suffered such a severe political backsiding by the JLP, and runs the risk of suffering another crushing defeat in 2025 if it does not get its act together, the guiding factor in electing a new party leader must, above all else, be who gives the PNP the best chance of competing with the charisma, favourability and immense popularity of the JLP's Andrew Holness, especially amongst the young generation. The PNP must position the party to defeat the JLP in a general election.

This leadership decision should not be based on trifling considerations as to a person's perceived or actual affiliation decades ago, and certainly not in the case of a party which only managed to garner a paltry 16 per cent of the support of the registered electorate. Quite the contrary, the PNP should be demonstrating to the public that it is a big tent willing to expand its base and extend its reach by being all-embracing, as opposed to being exclusionary and isolationist in its thinking.

Furthermore, lest we forget, Caribbean history is replete with examples of political leaders who have been associated with one political party early in their careers, but whose views evolved, and subsequently went on to join and even lead alternative political parties to repeated electoral success. In Jamaica, no less of a man than the first Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante was a member of the PNP and was present on its campaign platform, alongside his cousin Norman Manley, when the party was launched in 1938, but would go on to form the JLP in 1943 and lead it to multiple electoral victories in 1944, 1949 and 1962.

We also saw a similar situation in Barbados, where Sir Errol Barrow was initially affiliated with the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and elected to Parliament in the first instance on a BLP ticket in 1951, but then became the island's first prime minister under the banner of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) which he subsequently founded.

For a more contemporary scenario, there is the case of St Kitts and Nevis, where the Team Unity Administration, which is an amalgamation of three political parties, is currently led by Dr Timothy Harris, now in his second term as prime minister, having previously served for 18 years as a senior minister in the Labour Government under Dr Denzil Douglas, his former boss and now political rival.

We can even depart these Caribbean waters and journey to the United States of America, where we will discover that arguably the most prominent and highly regarded Republican president of the modern era, Ronald Reagan, was first a Democrat before he later became a Republican and a highly influential voice of modern conservatism.

If this be the political story and success of many renowned leaders further afield, why should elements within the PNP seek to overlook all the other positive attributes which Hanna potentially brings to the table simply because of her previous and significantly lesser affiliation with the JLP? If anything, this may well be of political advantage to both her and the PNP, as Hanna, just like the aforementioned political leaders, may enjoy a certain degree of crossover appeal that allows her to attract some JLP-leaning or non-traditional PNP voters to the party, which others within the PNP may not be as readily capable of doing. Beyond that, it may also evince a willingness on her part to not be unnecessarily rigid in her philosophical outlook and governance style if she is afforded the opportunity to ascend to the Office of the Prime Minister, but to be somewhat flexible as the very dynamic and fluid environment in which we now operate often requires.

Putting Hanna's small margin of victory in proper context

Much has also been made of the fact that Hanna, accustomed to winning the St Ann South Eastern constituency, a traditional PNP stronghold, by the thousands, only won it by a narrow margin of 31 votes in the most recent election. Thus, the argument which abounds is that if she cannot command the overwhelming support of her constituents, how can she command that of her party and, by extension, the country?

A fairly compelling argument on the surface, but one that is equally deserving of much context.

An analysis of the 2016 and 2020 election results indicate that, in 2016, the PNP (Lisa Hanna) tallied 8,142 votes and the JLP (Anderson Emmanuel) tallied 4,877 votes. In 2020, Hanna tallied 5,150 votes compared to the JLP's Delroy Granston's 5,119 votes. The JLP's increase in voter tally from 2016 was, therefore, a meagre 242 votes, whereas the PNP suffered a significant 2,992 vote drop-off from 2016. In essence, the result that obtained in St Ann South Eastern on September 3, 2020 was a consequence of nearly 3,000 PNP voters staying away from the polls, rather than a fundamental shift in actual voter support from the PNP towards the JLP.

Clearly this is an issue that will have to be addressed, and Hanna, as the Member of Parliament, must naturally seek to tighten loose ends. However, what is problematic, and I dare say somewhat disingenuous, is that if you listen to the debate emanating from several quarters, one would think that this was a problem unique to Hanna and her constituency, which was certainly not the case. The reality is that this result obtained throughout the length and breadth of the country, even in several of the seats which the PNP retained convincingly, albeit by still significantly reduced margins.

Let us consider, for example, the cases of St Andrew Southern, Kingston Eastern and Port Royal, and St Andrew South Western, which are currently held by Mark Golding, Phillip Paulwell and Angela Brown Burke, respectively. These areas have traditionally demonstrated themselves to be the three strongest PNP constituencies in Jamaica. In 2016, the PNP tallied 9,431 votes in St Andrew Southern and won that seat by a margin of 8,211 votes. In 2020, the PNP won that seat by a margin of 6,787 votes and tallied 7,881 votes — a drop-off of 1,550 votes from 2016.

In Kingston Eastern and Port Royal the PNP tallied 7,812 votes in 2016 and won that seat by a margin of 6,227 votes. In 2020, the PNP won Kingston Eastern and Port Royal by a margin of 3,351 votes and tallied 4,868 votes – a drop-off of 2,944 votes.

In 2016 the PNP tallied 10,792 votes in St Andrew South Western and won that seat by a margin of 10,090 votes. In 2020, the PNP won St Andrew South Western by a margin of 6,407 votes and tallied 7,036 votes — a drop-off of 3,756 votes.

The aforementioned paints a clear and consistent picture of a problem that far superseded and exceeds Hanna and the St Ann South Eastern constituency, but rather pervades the entire PNP camp, which is that PNP voters right throughout the country stayed home.

Indeed, in St Andrew South Western, traditionally the “safest” party seat, not only in Jamaica but the entire Caribbean, the haemorrhaging of PNP votes was notably more severe than what resulted in St Ann South Eastern. That is why the discussion surrounding Hanna's bid for leadership, and her narrow margin of victory in St Ann South Eastern, must be placed in its appropriate context and cannot justifiably be pinned exclusively or even predominantly on her. Not when so many of her other colleagues suffered the same and even worse a fate.

To my mind, this situation is largely akin to what occurred when the PNP last suffered a similar political tsunami — when it received a 51-9 seat drubbing at the hands of the JLP in 1980. In that election, even the much-revered P J Patterson lost his Westmoreland Eastern seat — a constituency he had consistently won both before and after by the thousands; and, similarly, Seymour Mullings, who preceded Hanna as the long-standing representative and bastion of St Ann South Eastern, and who, might I add, was accustomed to commanding over 70 per cent of the voter support in the constituency, only held on to his seat with a narrow 52 per cent of the voter support in 1980.

As veteran pollster Bill Johnson, in assessing the results of his post-election survey, quite accurately and succinctly stated, “Even the best swimmers drown when a tsunami hits.” Accordingly, if Hanna is to be disqualified or eliminated from the leadership discussion, it certainly has to be on much more tenable grounds than the aforementioned.

Anselm Caines is an attorney-at-law and a political and public affairs analyst. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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