This Sunday, September 17, 2023 Comrades will head in their thousands to National Arena for the public session of the People's National Party (PNP) as it celebrates its 85th anniversary, making it the oldest political organisation in the English-speaking Caribbean and Latin America.
As is customary, the party will want to show that it is a well-oiled machine, ready to face the polls whenever the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) "flies the gate" for both the local government and the general elections, which Party President Mark Jefferson Golding has boasted that it will win.
Buoyed by the latest Don Anderson poll, which shows the PNP surging ahead with a 30.2 per cent lead over the JLP at 25 per cent as of June 2023, the party's faithful is likely to coalesce with a greater sense of conviction around Golding, who continues to wobble in the popularity contest when pitted against JLP Leader Andrew "Brogad" Holness. Then again, Golding has posited that he does not want to be caught up with the popularity contest but would rather want the people of Jamaica to see him as a man of integrity, with very little baggage, who is eager to serve the Jamaican people with courage and vision.
Notwithstanding the JLP's growing unpopularity among the masses, the PNP continues to be beset by the proverbial shooting itself in the foot, with one gaffe after another. And even though Golding has been insisting that the party is now united more than ever, there continues to be speculation that internal strife coming out of the leadership challenge persists, with the One PNP followers who supported Dr Peter Phillips and Lisa Hanna pitting themselves against the "Risers" and the Mark Golding/Peter Bunting juggernaut.
There have also been rumblings in the belly of the party about leadership aspirant Senator Damion Crawford mounting a challenge, but Comrades would be foolish to mount any challenge against Golding at this time as this would give the wily Brogad the godsend opportunity he would need to call a snap election, given the fact the PNP would once again descend into turmoil and internecine warfare.
In the meantime, there are a number of issues that continue to plague the party, one of which is the perception that General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell is a loose cannon and should be roped in. The goodly Dr Campbell has been making a number of utterances that have angered sections of the society, and it is felt by pundits that the party president has given him too much leeway.
Campbell's verbal attack on the Cliff Hughes-led Nationwide News Network (NNN), accusing it of being "an incubator for the JLP", took the cake, as it was widely perceived as an attack on press freedom in the country, reminiscent of when Michael Manley ill-advisedly marched on The Gleaner, threatening, "Next time!"
Traditionally it has been deemed foolhardy for a political party in a democracy to take on the media as ultimately it tends to be a losing battle. It is no secret that there has always been a love-hate relationship between the media and politicians, but it must be understood that in the very final analysis journalists should be entitled to have their own political persuasions, as should media houses.
In the United States, oftentimes dubbed the world's greatest democracy, media houses have been known to publicly endorse a political party or candidate and political journalists are allowed to pursue their craft. While Jamaica has not yet reached such a level of political maturity, it behoves our media practitioners to carry out their journalistic duties with fairness and balance and when they do not they must be brought to book.
Frankly, there are other civil and well-thought out ways and means to deal with partisan journalists or media houses and Dr Campbell should explore these options and not jeopardise the image of his party by giving the impression that it is an anti-press political organisation in our well-established democracy.
In this regard, it is more than obvious that the PNP's communication arm is ineffective and lacking in professional expertise. This was one of the reasons the party did so badly in the last two general elections. The JLP had a superior and well-thought out communication strategy, which, incidentally, it no longer seems to have, but the PNP has failed, so far, to capitalise on this void. In this complex and challenging era of social media when there is much misinformation and disinformation, election campaigns will be lost or won by the party that has the better platform in cyberspace.
Of course, by now the PNP should realise that unless it is able to attract a sizeable number of uncommitted voters as well as re-energize its base, it will be destined to remain in the political wilderness for a long time to come. Golding and his orange team must bear in mind that the low voter turnout trend in previous elections of living memory will prove to be more favourable to the incumbent party.
Yes, a swing of 5 per cent and over can guarantee a first-past-the-post victory, but a day in politics can be a very long time, and unless the PNP gets its act together, it will have failed to sufficiently convince the Jamaican electorate that it deserves another chance at the wicket.
So even as the party no doubt will show much unity, strength, and organisational prowess this weekend, it must also begin the process of outlining the raft of policies that will underpin its visions as well as form the basis of its new deal with the Jamaican people. Opposing alone cannot do it, focusing only on the failures, weaknesses, and scandals will not do it. Many well-thinking Jamaicans are asking: Mr Golding, where is the beef?
In this vein, for starters, he needs to reshuffle his shadow Cabinet, which, so far, has been more shadow than substance. Without such a pragmatic and bold approach, the PNP will not 'cross it' as the JLP's river comes down bank to bank once gain.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full time in Jamaican media for the past 47 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.