The slow march to election


The slow march to election


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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There is almost universal agreement that the general election will be held this year. My belief is that it will take place soon after the budget presentations, which will conclude by the end of March 2020. I do not believe it will go much farther than May 30. But there is only one person in the country who can announce the date, the prime minister, and he has signalled that elections will be held soon after the budget presentation is concluded.

The time has long past when elections can be determined by the whims and fancies of one person or a political party in power. This policy does not only give the party in power enormous privilege, without corresponding responsibility, but allow all kinds of silly political games to be played with the people's interest.

A prime minister can act like God or use divine inspiration as an excuse to call or not to call it. We have seen how this has worked in the past. When the long overdue reform of our constitution is done, a fixed election date must be an essential part of this exercise — as it now is in Britain, the architect of the Westminster model to which we are so supinely dedicated.

Whenever the election is called the decision will come in the context of a growing economy, characterised by fiscal prudence and a growing maturity and determination to break with the reckless financial mismanagement of the past. It would have come in the contest of a country whose economy is being toasted by the world as a model of fiscal rectitude. Here, one should pause, as one has done repeatedly in this column, to pay tribute to the work of the Portia Simpson Miller-led Administration, and specifically the work of then Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, in setting the groundwork for this change. There are those who would ignore and even disavow their contribution, but this would not be the truth.

But the election will also come in the context of the ever-present existential threat posed by crime. Also, the perception of corruption in governance lingers at every corner. In this regard, this column welcomes the return of Greg Christie as executive director of the Integrity Commission. He will have responsibility for the daily operations of a commission, which is yet to awake from its Lilliputian slumber. No one doubts that Christie will make it come alive with what we have come to know as his legendary bulldog tenacity with dealing with issues of corruption when he served as contractor general.

One hopes that the bipartisan committee of Parliament which will re-examine the Integrity Commission Act will move for greater transparency, and in this regard remove the “gag clause” that prevents the commission from publicly commenting on matters it is investigating. This has not served the country well, and even commissioners have complained about it. Welcome back, Greg Christie. Those who fear you are those who want to suck at the public teat at the expense of the rest of us, or who believe they have some divine right to State resources. For those who are prepared to stay on the straight and narrow there should be no worry.

But back to the upcoming political silly season. The contest between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) is largely a battle between the leadership qualities of Dr Peter Phillips and those of Prime Minister Andrew Holness. People do not really worry that there will be any fundamental difference in policy perspectives if either side wins. There are no great ideological differences between the parties, despite Phillips's fawning nostalgia with democratic socialism.

What will command people's attention is whether at this time there is any compelling reason to disturb a growing economy by putting the PNP in power. The PNP criticises what they believe to be corruption in the JLP's governance of the country. It is their remit so to do, but it rings with a hollowness characteristic of bamboo, because many have lived through the various scandals that have bedevilled the PNP's long stand at the wicket. Yes, corruption has taken place under Holness — notwithstanding US Ambassador Donald Tapia's seeming ignorance on the matter — but people are not convinced that the PNP will fare any better in this matter if given power. This is why the Nationwide BlueDot polls have revealed that respondents believe Holness to be the person best able to deal with corruption.

The question that Phillips and the PNP must answer is what new will the PNP bring to the task of government that is so compelling that people should fire Holness from the job. Many, openly and silently, see in him a man who has grown in the office and is demonstrating a remarkable level of political sobriety and ability to discourse effortlessly with the people. They do not see him stumbling on the job or as a man uncertain where to put his feet. Apart from the perennial problems of crime and corruption, they see in him a man who is gaining daily a greater command of the job he occupies.

I do not get the feeling that many, especially the youth, are prepared to rock the boat at this time and replace his team with a waffling, vacillating, and divided PNP that is having difficulties holding its family together. I do not see the feisty and increasingly savvy youth population replacing one of their own for someone who, rightly or wrongly, does not speak their language, or when he attempts to can merely come out with a creolisation of what they are really thinking. It has to be very disconcerting talking to an audience that is not that deeply interested in what you are saying. In a sense, I feel a twinge of empathy for Dr Phillips. He is putting his best effort into what he is trying to achieve, but time is not on his side. I am not even too sure the extent to which presence of mind and wilful determination are. It will take a miracle or some serious and egregious missteps on the part of Holness and his team to turn things around. From my vantage point at this time, with electoral clouds gathering on the horizon, the nagging question seems to be how many seats will the PNP lose?

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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