No snap election, Holness!

DORLAN H FRANCIS

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Recent news report has stated that well-known commentator Dr Paul Ashley has suggested to Prime Minister Andrew Holness that he should call a snap election should Peter Bunting emerges as the president of the People's National Party (PNP) after their September 7, 2019 leadership contest. This is a preposterous position to adopt. And, since as I cannot, with good conscience, say that the musings of Ashley is the sounding of a political neophyte — because he is not — I can only conclude that he may well be helping to set a trap for Holness. I am here to caution the prime minister against falling for that bait.

I was born in a very political household, and I have had front-row seats in various election dramas. I have witnessed the exhilarating joys of victory and the excruciating agony of defeat. I pride myself on being a good student of Jamaica's political history, and I have learnt a lot from it.

My first conscious recollection of an election in Jamaica was the September 19, 1961 referendum. This was to determine whether Jamaica would remain in the West Indies Federation, or not. The Alexander Bustamante-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won a clear and convincing victory. The victory was so thrilling that my mother, who gave birth to a baby girl that night, called her Joy. The referendum win was followed by general election wins in 1962 and 1967.

Then came February 29, 1972, and after the outstanding performance of the greatest Government in the history of Jamaica, the 1967 to 1972 Hugh Lawson Shearer-led JLP Government, the defeat came. It was palpable. My father went around as if he was a shell-shocked survivor from the battle of the Somme! The February 9, 1989 defeat of the Edward Seaga-led JLP was also painful, but the other one with shock and pain was the December 29, 2011 defeat of the JLP. This heralded in the first one-term Government in the history of Jamaica.

Calling elections is not child's play and it must not be entered in lightly. Calling snap elections are even more perilous. Foremost in the minds of anyone calling a snap election must be the questions: When you win what do you win? And, if you lose, what do you lose?

Let me deal with the latter first. When you lose you lose power and the ability to do all the great wonderful things that you want to do for the country and the people. When you win what do you win? The uninitiated would quickly say, you win another five-year term. But who say so? What guarantee is there that such a party would have another five years? How can one be sure that within one or two years in the new term the Government is not confronted with issues that could bring the Government down?

The JLP has called two snap elections and they both had consequences. The December 15, 1983 snap election called by Edward Seaga saw him winning another five-year term. But it was so snappy it really caught the PNP with their proverbial pants down. The PNP was not ready for an election, and they found a reason not to contest it. It is my belief that the Comrades were so incensed that they swore on Norman Manley's grave that Edward Seaga would never again be prime minister of Jamaica. And the best mind Jamaica has produced was tied out to pasture; never again to administer the affairs of the country all because of a snap election which gave him an extra five years. One cannot in good conscience fault Seaga, though. The country was in a bad shape after Michael Manley ruined it. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was demanding more and more austerity. The October 19, 1983 events in Grenada gave Seaga the perfect opportunity and he snapped it up.

The next snap election by the JLP was called by Andrew Holness with dire consequence. Again it is hard to fault Andrew then. He had just been selected by the parliamentary leadership of the JLP and he was faced with the IMF breathing down his back and demanding that the country takes 'bitter medicine'. Faced with those circumstances, any self-respecting leader would have sought his own mandate.

This time it is different. He has his mandate. There are no economic or financial pressures. To call a snap election now would only be because he can. That would be as reckless as betting the farm on Teeter Board (the quarter horse which always led for four furlongs, but was never able to win a race at Caymanas Park). There is not much to gain from winning such an election, but there is so much to lose.

The prime minister should harbour no thoughts of calling any snap election regardless of which Peter wins the PNP race, but most certainly not if Peter Bunting wins. If Phillips wins the tension which precipitated the challenge in the first place would not have been resolved and might get even worse. Calling an election against a Phillips-led PNP in 2019 or 2021 the result might still be the same. However, if Bunting wins, he will herald in a new paradigm. He will have a popularity boost and it would be best to give Bunting time to make mistakes and to put his foot in his mouth — just like it was with “Sister P”. If she had called elections in 2006, at the zenith of her popularity, she might have won. But she waited and time revealed her limitations. When Damion Crawford won the vice-presidency his popularity shot through the roof. With the passing of time he has proven to be ordinary. The same will be Bunting's fate. If he were to win, in the early months, his popularity would rise quickly. The enthusiasm factor in the PNP would rise. It would be suicidal to go early against Bunting. It would be delusional to believe that the PNP machinery would be in disarray. All calculations must be on the basis that the PNP would be election-ready whenever elections are called. What would need weighing are party cohesion and the enthusiasm factor. A Bunting win will cause both to be higher. The delegates will accept the verdict of a fair election. The upper echelon of 'One PNP' will have to fall in line or get rolled over by the Bunting train. So there will be cohesion under Bunting.

Prime Minister, snap elections are called because you have to, not because you can. The JLP has a tradition of running out the clock. The first election was December 14, 1944. The next election called by Alexander Bustamante was December 20, 1949, and the one after that was called January 12, 1955. The Independence election was called April 10, 1962 and the next election was called February 21, 1967 (one and a half months were left on the table). The next election was called by Shearer, February 29, 1972. After the snap election of December 15, 1983 the next election was called by Seaga on February 9, 1989. Do the maths, Prime Minister, the JLP runs out the clock and take a little. That is the JLP tradition it would be wise to stick to the tradition.

Dorlan H Francis is a personal financial adviser and author. Among his books is The Economic and Financial Crisis of 2007 - What Caused it : How to Avoid a Repeat. Send comments to the Observer or dhfken@hotmail.com.


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