Principle? What principle?

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Principle? What principle?

PNP dodging by-election on sham grounds

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, February 09, 2020

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A bull dies with a grass in its mouth. — Luhya/Banyole proverb, Uganda

Our 18th parliamentary election will be particularly historic. For the first time in just over a quarter of a century stalwarts, Pearnel Charles Sr, Everald Warmington, and Rudyard Spencer will not be candidates for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). According to reports in the media, old political generals, Mike Henry and Karl Samuda have also left the political departure lounge and are about to take their seats on board Air Retirement.

This banner headline did not surprise me: 'Ruddy Spencer heading to Germany after quitting as MP'. ( Jamaica Observer, February 3, 2020) Neither was I stunned by this: 'Clarendon South Eastern MP Ruddy Spencer resigns with immediate effect'. ( The Gleaner, February 4, 2020)

This news item said among other things: “In the meantime, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, who is also the JLP general secretary says the Government would be moving to fill the seat 'soon' so that the people there are not 'left alone'.”

Those who watch the shifting of our political tea leaves would not have been left nonplussed by these political developments.

Similarly, last Wednesday's, announcement by the People's National Party (PNP) that it is not contesting a by-election so close to an imminent general election would not have baffled discerning political watchers. A statement by the general secretary of the PNP Julian Robinson said among other things: “The PNP respects the right of the people of South East Clarendon to have parliamentary representation, but has no intention of following the JLP into this unnecessary and wasteful political exercise which will be a carnival of spending State resources, as were the cases in the two previous by-elections.” ( Jamaica Observer, February 5, 2020)

I suspect by “two previous by-elections” Robinson was referring to St Mary South Eastern on October 30, 2017 and Portland Eastern (April 4, 2019).

Note the just under 12 months separation/difference between those two by-elections.

For argument's sake, as we say in local parlance, let us assume the PNP was caught unawares by this alleged “carnival of spending of State resources” in the October 2017 by-election in St Mary South Eastern, then why did the PNP not boycott the Portland Eastern edition on April 4, 2019?

Simply, the PNP had convinced itself that its chances of winning the Portland Eastern by-election were iron-clad. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

The very words of Dr Peter Phillips serve as evidence:

TV reporter: If the PNP should lose that seat.

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: But if the PNP should lose that seat...

Dr Peter Phillips: There is no if, there is no if, there is no if; it is a PNP seat.

TV reporter: So, you are saying, regardless of what the JLP does...

Dr Peter Phillips: We are going to win the seat.

Robinson would want us to believe that the PNP's decision not to contest a by-election set for March 2, 2020 in Clarendon South Eastern is predicated upon fervent principles of frugality, democratic ideals, and considerations of nationalistic fervour. Balderdash! The PNP's general secretary is not going to find very fertile ground among folks.

Many years ago I made the case in this space for a fixed date for our general election. I have not recoiled from that position. No prime minister should have the power to be walking around and glibly reciting: “I have the election date in my back pocket.” Or, “Only I and I know the date and can fly the gate.” Or, “You will know the date when I am touched by my master.” That is yesterday's politics.

I believe we should also have a fixed period in which a by-election must be held.

Except for those who have recently landed from Mars, we all know that opportunistic by-elections are a staple of our politics. The fact is, the JLP and PNP spent millions of dollars to woo voters in the recent by-elections in St Andrew North Western (March 5, 2018), St Mary South Eastern (October 30, 2017), and Portland Eastern (April 4, 2019), and by-elections previous to those.

We, the electorate, will not be hoodwinked!

It is evident that the real reason the PNP will not be fielding a candidate in the upcoming by election in Clarendon South Eastern is because it has concluded it will be defeated. I believe the PNP has scored yet another own goal. It has, once again, highlighted itself as a party of gloried hypocrites.

The reality is, another by-election loss for the Dr Peter Phillips-led PNP would more than likely plunge Norman Manley's party into another period of concentrated political glumness. The PNP is understandably still licking the political wounds caused by the crushing body blows and vicious uppercuts it received in the two most recent by-elections.

The trouncing the PNP received in Portland Eastern, in particular, shook the very foundation of 89 Old Hope Road. The JLP overturned the over 2,200-vote margin of victory achieved by the PNP in the February 25, 2016 General Election.

Despite the fact that the PNP's candidate, Damion Crawford, a vice-president and the most popular politician in the PNP, gained 1,000 more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield in 2016, that was not enough to overcome the just over 3,000 additional votes, or 50 per cent increase, for the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz.

The birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits tweet that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, has been intensely pacing the floor of his office at 1 West King's House Circle, even after the decision not to contest. He is tormented with political what ifs.

Phillips knows that if the PNP were to contest and win, his political stocks would significantly increase in value immediately. But if the PNP, were to contest and lose another by-election, one of the many unpleasant consequences certainly would be a return for Dr Phillips to the political sitting duck position, which was like a sword of Damocles before the brutal leadership race which he narrowly won by 76 votes.

I believe the decision not to contest is more about Dr Phillips and less about standard-bearer, Patricia Duncan-Sutherland; more about Dr Phillips and less about the constituents of Clarendon South Eastern; more about Dr Phillips and less about the PNP.

The birds warble that Phillips is caught between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea. Having decided to “tek bush” and not field a candidate, Phillips indicates that he fears being branded a political coward and is dreading accusations that he is protecting his shaky political perch to the detriment of the PNP.

Phillips, the birds sing, is caught in a political enigma within a puzzle.

I am not surprised.

Clarendon South Eastern has very deep JLP roots. It was formerly represented by founder of the JLP and Jamaica's first prime minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante; Jamaica's third Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer; and most recently by its former four-time Member of Parliament, noted trade unionist Rudyard Spencer. Nonetheless, the PNP has a strong standard-bearer in the person of Patricia Duncan-Sutherland, who has a considerable war chest. This according to reports in the media. She said on a radio programme last Tuesday that she was prepared to run, but could not without the imprimatur of 89 Old Hope Road. In local parlance, she was told, “Not over wi dead body,” by the PNP last Wednesday morning.

This is sad!

Loud Ironies

There are also some huge ironies here.

For starters, recall Senator Damion Crawford was parachuted into Portland Eastern only weeks before a by-election. Weeks after he was rejected by the people. He pulled down his political shutters and announced that he was going out of business, and moving on. This is the classic behaviour of a carpetbagger. Duncan-Sutherland, by contrast, has been working in the constituency of Clarendon South Eastern since 2014.

The birds sing, that she has established substantial roots in the constituency. Affectionately known as Tresha, I gather from the birds that she has invested great time and effort in community activities. Additionally, when she lost to Rudyard Spencer in 2016 she remained in the constituency and dug in her political heels. This is untypical of many of our politicians who “nyam and go weh”, as we say in local parlance; they disappear as soon as they lose an election.

Contrast Duncan-Sutherland, too, with Dr Shane Alexis, who was 'helicoptered' into St Mary South Eastern only weeks before a by-election. Recall that it came to public light after Alexis had been nominated as the candidate for the PNP.

Even more egregious was the revelation that Dr Alexis had not even bothered to begin the process to become a Jamaican citizen. The country only became aware that Dr Alexis was a Canadian citizen on Nationwide News Network's Cliff Hughes On Line, on Tuesday, October 10, 2017. Two days later, Dr Alexis dropped this bombshell: “People's National Party (PNP) candidate for South East St Mary, Dr Shane Alexis, says he did not apply for Jamaican citizenship because 'the necessity did not present itself' in his day-to-day life before his entrance into representational politics.

“Alexis's nationality became a hot topic earlier this week when the ruling Jamaica Labour Party revealed that he was a Canadian citizen who does not hold a Jamaican passport.

“Alexis addressed the issue in an interview with Loop Jamaica on Wednesday:

“ 'I didn't start my journey to become a politician, so I was able to do all the things everyone was able to do, and so the necessity [to apply for Jamaican citizenship] did not present itself in my day-to-day life,' Alexis said, noting that the application process is an onerous one.

“He added, 'Now that my life has changed to become a political representative, it's more of a necessity, but it doesn't change the work I have done for the country or the plans I have for it.' ” ( Loop Jamaica, October 12, 2017)

Poor political judgement

I believe the PNP's decision not to contest the upcoming by-election is another terrible and unnecessary self-inflicted wound that will cost it dearly at the ballot box. Dr Phillips has far more political raw meat than the JLP and, hence, has more urgent need to seek fire.

Phillips desperately needs to find out if his party is gaining needed political traction, especially since a recent scientific poll done late in 2019 indicated that support for the PNP, and its president in particular, had all but flatlined.

The birds tweet that many in the inner sanctum of the PNP privately admit that the ploy not to contest could prove dangerous to the PNP's political health. The birds warble that, despite recent ostentatious public pronouncements, the PNP is nowhere near ready for a general election. The birds sing, that the coffers at 89 Old Hope Road are longing to smile, critical internal machinery still sputters, and divisiveness still walk the corridors of the party's creaking floorboards, six months after a very cantankerous and bitter leadership battle.

Capturing many birds

I believe Prime Minister Andrew Holness is aiming to capture two or more political birds with a single stone.

Pearnel Charles Jr is the JLP's standard-bearer for Clarendon South Eastern — a seat for him in the Lower House will bring the political jockeying for Clarendon North Central between him and Senator Robert Morgan to an end.

I believe Charles Jr taking a seat in the Lower House will serve to concentrate the JLP's political adrenaline. This will signal that two eagles of victory would have taken flight for Holness and the JLP. The first is, of course, the very good state of the economy and its various positives.

A handsome second term win for the JLP is imminent. In the midst of seeming political plenty, 20 Belmont Road would do well to ensure that it guards against even the very appearance of political complacency.


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