PNP playing in the arena of compromise Truce, horse-trading being used to manipulate the 3Ms

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PNP playing in the arena of compromise Truce, horse-trading being used to manipulate the 3Ms

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, June 28, 2020

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The shepherd of frogs recognises the limping one. — Fulani proverb, Nigeria

If we are to believe the political optics, the June 11, 2020 meeting between the “Gang of 15” and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips, plus his front rank loyalists, has resulted in a thawing of relationships which were in the political deep freezer for the better part of the last three years. The apparent rapprochement between the warring factions in the PNP is good for our democracy.

I have said on several occasions in my The Agenda columns that an ineffective Opposition does not benefit our country. As an example: “All well-thinking Jamaicans want to see a strong Opposition. We do not want the continuation of fractiousness and factionalism in its ranks.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 13, 2019)

I am resolute in that position. Between 1989 and 2007, we had a politically emaciated Opposition. A terrible consequence was a plunge into the quicksand of institution adulteration. We are yet to fully recover. Going forward, I believe we best avoid such leaden paths.

The birds, those trusted Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits, and Bananaquits tweet that the seeming restoration of humorous relationships between factions at 89 Old Hope Road was the consequence of shrewd bargaining on June 11, 2020. That is a good sign. Why?

Simply, if individuals who are auditioning to lead this country and will likely do so at some point in the future cannot resolve internal party and personal differences, there is little hope that the seemingly intractable problems of the Jamaican State are going be solved.

Doubtless, the urgency of a general election, that some political pundits say is going to be called later this summer, also goaded dissenting groups in the PNP to rediscover their primary function as a political party — to win elections.

The birds warble that there was a tremendous amount of political horse-trading, submerging of overgrown egos, much eating of humble pie, and acknowledgement of having wronged the party by both factions at the surly meeting on June 11, 2020. Politics, among other things, is the arena of compromise, so these augur well for Norman Manley's party.

Bunting's pay day

Last Sunday, this newspaper carried this banner headline: 'Bunting rises! Manchester Central MP set to replace Guy as Leader of Opposition Business in House; will become co-campaign director'. The Sunday Observer was spot on.

Last Tuesday Peter Bunting, Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester Central formally displaced Morais Guy, Member of Parliament for St Mary Central, as Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.

I say formally because those who pay keen attention to the tremors and our political tea leaves would have noticed that Bunting was the de facto Leader of Opposition Business in the House for many months. By May this year Dr Guy's star had all but faded. Recall, I wrote: “Incidentally, Bunting has noticeably raised the decibels on his media visibility metre during parliamentary sittings in recent weeks.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 17, 2020).

Dr Guy also faces trouble in St Mary Central. I telegraphed this from two years ago: “I suspect some might say this is a safe seat for the PNP, so Dr Guy does not need to worry. I think he might be in for a big surprise if what I picked up on the ground was an accurate representation of how disgusted folks across the constituency are with his neglect of several important roads and other amenities in the constituency.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 1, 2018)

I had occasion to visit St Mary Central two Sundays ago. Credible sources say Dr Guy has recovered some important support since 2018. However, his recovery is not sufficient to remove him from the politically vulnerable bracket, they say. They maintain that if a general election were called today St Mary Central would be won by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Many in the PNP will doubtless retort: “St Mary Central is a PNP seat!”

Where did I hear such braggadocio before? Ah, yes, in the run-up to the by-election in Portland Eastern in 2019.

While Bunting did not win the political super lotto in September 2019, lady luck has granted him a generous political cash pot payout. The birds tweet that there will be a kind of co-Opposition leader arrangement leading into the next general election.

The birds warble that Dr Phillips will immediately resign as president of the PNP if he does not carry home the political bacon in our 18th parliamentary election.

They tweet that if Phillips wins he will serve as prime minister for a maximum of two years and, thereafter, pass the baton to Bunting in the tradition of former party leaders and prime ministers Michael Manley to P J Patterson in 1992, and Patterson to Portia Simpson Miller in 2006.

My fine-feathered friends tweet about a 50-50 split of Cabinet posts between 'OnePNP' and 'RiseUnited' adherents if the PNP wins the next general election.

They shriek that Bunting will have equal prominence at press conferences and his dexterous RiseUnited communication clique, who helped to catapult him within inches of dethroning Dr Peter Phillips from the presidential perch, will take command of the PNP's communication armoury.

Bunting and Phillips had equal prominence at the PNP's recent presser that was held two Mondays ago.

I am not surprised by any of these developments.

Phillips's slide

Dr Phillips seems to have finally come down from his political pomp and pride. He has evidently recognised that he is staring down the barrel of defeat. After more than three years at the helm, Phillips has failed to gain significant traction, especially among the youth.

Every credible poll since 2018 has shown that Dr Phillips is trailing leader of the JLP and Prime Minister Andrew Holness by double digits.

When a politician recognises that he/she is facing almost certain defeat he/she attempts to upset the death knell. Some political actors grab for elaborate disruptors to try and disturb the status quo. Others throw political grenades in the hope that they can upset the dynamics of imminent failure. This is called gambling for resurrection in political science.

I don't believe it requires the lighting of a lamp to see that the PNP and Phillips are boxed into a political cul-de-sac.

The detente between Bunting and Phillips is the only hope of resuscitating a party which has almost flatlined.

Some pundits say Bunting's elevation as co-campaign director for the PNP is a life-saving injection. What of side effects such as dire allergic reactions? If that happens Bunting may well become the patient on the political gurney. More anon!

The 3Ms

Message, momentum, and money are the three critical pillars of political campaigns. I think Dr Phillips has recognised that as long as Bunting and his faction were outside looking in, that also meant the constricting of critical financial support needed to fuel the PNP.

The birds sing that several traditional PNP backers are again cautiously opening their cheque books. This is a good sign for the PNP.

It is an open secret that 89 Old Hope Road has been operating on financial fumes for many months. The JLP had a similar ailment before 2016.

Bunting, I gather, is a man of considerable monetary wealth. I suspect he will be pumping some of his considerable financial resources into the PNP's bid to take back Jamaica House.

The PNP will need much more than a large war chest to achieve that objective. The JLP, I hear, has financial funders with deep pockets. If we are to use recent general elections as gauges, I believe there will be an orgy of spending by both parties to woo voters.

I think the JLP has a clear advantage with respect to momentum. Why? By any objective system of measurement the JLP has done a very creditable job at managing the COVID-19 crisis. Last Tuesday a press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness noted that 10 Jamaicans had died from COVID-19. According to reports in the media these 10 had underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc, and one, a four-year-old child, had cerebral palsy.

At the time of writing this column 518 Jamaicans had recovered from COVID-19. Thirteen were hospitalised.

Today is 111 days since the first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was confirmed in Jamaica. It was imported.

One hundred and eleven days after many countries with great reservoirs of resources reported their first coronavirus case thousands of their citizens have succumbed to COVID-19, and thousands more have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

At the time of writing this article the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported 9,407,078 COVID-19 infections globally. A little less than 484,000 people in 188 countries have died, and just over 5,175,405 have recovered from the disease.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness seems ably supported in particular by ministers Christopher Tufton, Nigel Clarke, Kamina Johnson Smith, Edmund Bartlett, Desmond McKenzie, Horace Chang, and Matthew Samuda. Samuda has turned out to be a very smart addition to the Ministry of National Security. He has demonstrated some very conscientious leadership. Most important is the dedicated support of the security forces, civil service, and other arms of government. They are invaluable pillars of the Administration's impressive results.

Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-trained pandemic expert, physicist, renowned systems scientist, and founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute has included Jamaica among 47 countries (as at June 23, 2020) which are doing “best in beating COVID-19”. Bar-Yam advises numerous global agencies and countries on the control and spread of pandemics.

Here is the full list: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Barbados, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Holy See, Iceland, Ireland Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Niger, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay, and Vietnam. These and other data can be found at www.EndCoronavirus.org.

The very high marks which the Administration has earned due to its very commendable handling of the COVID-19 crisis is a very big feather in its cap. Relatedly, the Administration has been able to reopen those sections of the economy, which were temporarily shuttered, in a near seamless manner.

The apocalyptic economic collapse which some predicted has not happened. The successful repatriation of thousands of Jamaicans, notwithstanding the doom and gloom which some predicted, is also an important achievement, given the limited resources of our country.

From cursory surveys of responses in traditional and on social media, which I have done, I get the sense that thousands of ordinary Jamaicans are very appreciative of the compassionate grant payments from the Government's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

There was no template for the management of COVID-19. There was little time to prepare for its landing on our shores. Our country has not disappeared like The Lost Planet of Atlantis as some prophesied. The Administration has real achievements to hold up as objective evidence of its praiseworthy management of the COVID-19 crisis.

What have you done for me lately? What will you do in short order to improve my social and economic state? I believe voters are particularly concerned with practical answers to those questions.

“Are you now confident that Phillips will lead the PNP to victory?” Bunting was asked this pointed question on a radio programme last Tuesday. A simple yes or no would have sufficed. He, instead, responded with trivia about the Portia Simpson Miller Administration “setting the economy on the path of economic growth”, and the PNP “always putting people at the centre of its policies and programme”.

I don't believe any of that razzle-dazzle will win many votes among the majority of undecided, or swing voters in the marginal seats who will likely determine the outcome of the next general election.

In previous articles I have demonstrated with facts from credible local, regional, and international sources that each time the PNP forms the Administration the country's economy screams in agony and social conditions plunge. The PNP continues to misread the direction of our nation's political antenna.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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