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A new kind of political maturity

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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Even if you dance in the water, your enemies will accuse you of causing dust. — Zambian Proverb.

We have become so accustomed to the pegging and provisioning of basic amenities like roads, water and electricity as precursors to the calling of national elections that I cannot fault those who are mouthing that a general election is nigh.

Among other reasons, maybe it was this rotten political approach which influenced former Prime Minister PJ Patterson to describe our politics as “a fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes that seem to be perpetually at war”.

Hopes of New Political Approach

Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness set the record straight when he announced that he did not have a general election on his immediate agenda. “No election now, says Holness,” read the Jamaica Observer headline. I suspect that this announcement significantly worsened the condition of those who suffer with stage four Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome.

The Observer story said, among other things: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness confirmed Sunday night that the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is not in election mode, despite the presentation of new candidates over the past two weeks.

“I am just jogging, just doing my thing and warming up,” Holness told JLP supporters at Sunday night's presentation of Minister of Education, Youth and Information Senator Ruel Reid as candidate for St Ann North Western at Brown's Town Community College.

Addressing “workers of the party”, the prime minister said that he had heard the comments on social media about the possibility of the Government calling an election. However, he dismissed the suggestion.

“Only one man hold that card, and I am keeping that close to my chest. I am not ready to play that card yet. We still have many more good cards to play in our deck,” he added.

“They don't know me. They see me, but they don't know me. I am one man, y'know, I don't panic, and duppy can't frighten me. I am fixed in my mind on you the people. I am looking at you, I am looking into your eyes. I am reading your faces and sometimes when I am not talking, it is simply because I am listening, and I am hearing and I am understanding,” he told the crowd.” — Jamaica Observer, August 21, 2018

The prime minister is making eminent sense. This JLP Administration, as we say in cricketing parlance, has been putting appreciable runs on the scoreboard. Employment is at its highest since political independence. Inflation is low. The country continues to satisfy all International Monetary Fund benchmarks with relative ease. Consumer confidence continues at an all time high. International rating agency Moody's recently shifted its outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive. Net International Reserves [NIR] is at a historic US$3.1 billion.

Murders and other serious crimes are down nearly 18 per cent. Major road improvement infrastructure projects like Mandela Highway, Hagley Park Road, Constant Spring Road, Barbican Road, Alexandria to Brown's Town Road Project [St Ann], Junction Road Improvement [St Mary], Ferris Cross to Macfield [Westmoreland], plus scores of others, two years, not months, but two years before the next parliamentary election is constitutionally due is setting a new political and social narrative.

More of our citizens all over the country, particularly in what I believe are the 43 marginal seats, are beginning to see that the Nicodemus provisioning of basic amenities weeks, and sometimes only days before an election was simply governmental and or political disrespect. Based on the national and political trajectory, I foresee that other major projects will take root and will be allowed to bear fruit before he announces a general election date.

I have repeatedly said on the radio and either once or twice in this space that I do not support what are called snap elections. Providing that an Administration commands the confidence of the majority of the people, I think it should serve the period for which it was elected, in our case five years. Most folks will doubtless make rational assessments at the end of the period and in their individual and collective wisdom, they will choose. I do not subscribe to the sinister view of some that the majority of us will select the worst of options in the best of circumstances. Our history as a people does not support that kind of self-deprecation.

Recall that the PNP, with almost a year on the political odometer, called a general election on February 25, 2016. According to some reports in the media there was a morbid fear in the PNP that there needed to be a general election before the public sector negotiations started in earnest. I wonder who was the chief purveyor of that narrative?

Recent events have, by and large, demonstrated that that was just old-guard thinking. Notwithstanding some tough negotiations, and tight standoffs between some unions, whose leaders' umbilical cords are tied to the PNP, this Administration did a very good job in circumstances which many predicted would have been apocalyptic. Good sense and mutual accommodation won out in the end. There is a new kind of political maturity rippling through a critical mass, which seems to have totally escaped the PNP and Dr Phillips. I believe this political blind spot, plus the absence of even the semblance of a plan to do a better job than the governing JLP, are among the primary reasons that majority public sentiment continues to elude Dr Phillips and the PNP.

Recall long-time deputy general secretary of the PNP Luther Buchanan said, “You can't look at renewal if you are going for a 1980 model Benz... Of fundamental importance, if we are to go to an election in 2020 or 2021, the age difference is that a 70-odd-year-old leader of the People's National Party will have to be sold against a 50-year-old [Andrew] Holness.” ( The Star, December 9, 2016). I suspect more comrades even in the inner sanctum of the party are beginning to understand the significance of Buchanan's comments. The birds whisper they are presentiments.

Clear Momentum

I believe the Jamaica Labour Party Administration has majority national public sentiments firmly on its side. The most recent Don Anderson Poll findings showed that the PNP is still gasping for political air, two and a half years after it was rejected in a national plebiscite. The polls also clearly indicated that the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, has not gained noticeable political traction, especially among the young. I believe that if an election were called today, the JLP would win between 39 and 43 seats relatively comfortably. I will say more in another piece.

Survival Mode

The birds tweeted many months ago that the PNP's much vaunted machinery was still trapped in survival mode. In December 2017 I wrote: “The fib machine of the People's National Party (PNP) that crashed in the February 25, 2016 General Election has been refitted with junkyard parts which some internal party mechanics warn are suited only for the smelter.

“Recall that the presidency of the PNP was wrestled from former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller at the PNP's National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Hatfield, Manchester, on Sunday, February 5, 2017. Recall also that the meeting witnessed a bitter explosion from Simpson Miller. She went off script and emptied her political soul. She did tell the meeting, “Like how you glad fi si mi out, don't be glad to call mi when you need mi to win election.

“She did tell the NEC that she was pushed and nobody had to tell her to leave. Simpson Miller, at the Hatfield hanging meeting, did castigate Comrades, saying, “I worked like a donkey for this movement.” At the Hatfield political OK Corral, Simpson Miller fumed that some in the PNP were party to leaks of internal PNP information. She fired salvos at men that, she said, “don't like female leadership.

“Dr Phillips has been telling the country that things are hunky-dory at 89 Old Hope Road, but the birds have been singing a different song for many months. Most recent confirmation of the birds' shriek came at the start of last week.

“Last Sunday, The Gleaner carried this most revealing headline: 'Angela Wants A PNP Mediation Unit To Settle Party Disputes'. The story said, among other things: 'People's National Party (PNP) vice presidential contender Dr Angela Brown Burke is pleading with Region 3 Chairman Phillip Paulwell to support her motion for the establishment of a mediation unit in the party to settle the many disputes among Comrades. As her candidacy picks up steam, Brown Burke said the many rancour and unresolved issues in the party were spilling over in the public and the media.' It seems that the rickety political scaffolding of the PNP which is now plastered with large amounts of 'white-wash' [cheap paint], is creaking at the seams. More Anon!”

Those ubiquitous birds

I got an e-mail last Tuesday asking, why I had so much confidence in the tweets of the birds, the Black Bellied Plovers, Banana Quits and John Chewits. So far they have been almost always correct.

Recall this, which I wrote on October 24, 2015? “Whether the People's National Party (PNP) president and the country's prime minister calls the general and/or local government election in November, as some pundits predict and sections of the private sector are demanding; February 2016, as my sources insist; anytime on or before December 29, 2016; or enter into a realm that no other political party has gone before — those additional three months allowed by the Jamaican Constitution — I sense that the PNP is headed for a crushing defeat similar to October 30, 1980.”

It is not difficult to understand. Between 1989 and 2007 the PNP increased its garrisons from eight to 15. The JLP has five garrisons. The JLP went into the February 25, 2016 national plebiscite with 21 seats and the PNP with 42. The JLP did not lose any, and simultaneously gained 11 of the PNP's. It is not rocket science!

Remember this from the ubiquitous fine-feathered creatures? “The Black-Bellied Plovers, Banana Quits, and John Chewits are also singing of advanced plans by one group to trigger rolling strikes before the end of 2017.” — Jamaica Observer, December 10, 2017.

On Monday, December 11, 2017, the Old Lady of North Street carried this headline: 'Corporate Area court impacted as rank and file police on sick-out'.

The rolling strikes then followed in the days after.

Recall that I also wrote this on November 12, 2017? “The birds shriek that another stratagem which the PNP will soon call into action is the use of extreme obstructionisms in Parliament. The birds tweet that, in the coming months, the PNP will use various methods to oppose the country's legislative agenda. The birds warble that this will be attempted with walkouts, political grandstanding, vulgar outbursts, threat of court action, and other devices that are not foreign to those who understand that when its former chairman said 'anything', he meant anything.”

Check the conduct of the PNP and its surrogates in the last several months and you will readily see the match. I could give several other examples where the warble of the ever-present birds turned out to be spot on, but space does not allow.

Economy Grew by 1.8 per cent

Those who wish ill-will for Jamaica for whatever sick reasons probably had bouts of epilepsy when they read this: “The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) says the economy grew by an estimated 1.8 per cent for the April to June 2018 quarter, relative to the corresponding period last year.” — Jamaica Observer, August 16, 2018.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress. – Barack Obama

— Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com

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