PNP's election loss report buried
Committee's recommendations not presented to NEC almost a year laterSunday, September 26, 2021
BY ARTHUR HALL
THE committee appointed by the People's National Party (PNP) to review its crushing defeat in the 2020 General Election has identified eight main reasons for its loss and provided a slew of recommendations which, it believes, could lead to victory the next time around.
The Evaluation Committee, which was led by attorney-at-law and veteran member Delano Franklyn, submitted its report on November 5 last year. That was two days before the party's delegates elected Mark Golding to replace Dr Peter Phillips as president.
But so far the report has not been made public and has not been presented to most of the party's bodies, including its National Executive Council, the PNP's second-highest decision-making body.
The Jamaica Observer has seen a copy of the report which claims deep divisions in the party and a lack of funding were among the main reasons for its 14-49 seat defeat at the hands of the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Other factors which the Franklyn-led committee blamed for the defeat were: a weak and deteriorating party organisational machinery; the party's leader, who was then Phillips; the party had no clear message, no clear strategy; the party's communication was weak; leadership matters surrounding some the sitting Members of Parliament; and the failure of the party to implement the numerous recommendations which were made in the appraisal reports of 2007 and 2016.
In its examination of the eight main factors for the PNP's defeat, the committee did a deep dive into the divisions in the party which it said first emerged in 2006 during the presidential election to replace PJ Patterson – which was won by Portia Simpson Miller – and got worse in 2008 during the challenge to Simpson Miller by Phillips.
It said the divisions receded in the period leading up to the national election of 2011 but “re-emerged and lingered and became more prominent in 2015 just prior to the 2016 national election, and became far more evident before and during the 2019 presidential challenge.
“The division has impacted every aspect of the party's operation. It has pitted members and supporters against each other, at every level of the party, and made the organisation weak and vulnerable.”
On the issue of the party's leader going into the general election, the committee noted that internal polls done prior to the campaign and during the campaign showed Phillips trailing Holness in favourability ratings by 20 to 40 per cent.
“As a result, it appeared to many persons that the party did not effectively promote the leader during the campaign. Further, things were said during the 2019 presidential challenge which were used by the JLP to drive the negative ratings of the party leader. In a country which is 'leader-centric' as it relates to political parties, the unfavourability ratings in the polls, coupled with the party's attempts to sideline the leader during the campaign, turned off many voters.”
But perhaps the most damning critique by the committee was the failure of the PNP to approach the election with a clear message and strategy.
“The party did not have a clear message outlining what it stood for and wanted to rally the people around. It had no answer to the JLPs message which was 'Building Back Jamaica Stronger'. The party had no clear strategy on how it intended to win the election.
“While it had all its candidates in place before the election, candidates and party workers found it difficult to campaign because they had no specific message to take to the voters. The issue was compounded by the lateness of the manifesto and which, as a result, was not known or understood by candidates, party workers, and potential voters,” said the committee.
According to the committee, a number of people in the PNP's leadership were speaking on different topics, some at cross purposes, and this created confusion in the minds of its members and supporters.
“A number of persons in the [party's] leadership had musical dubs/songs, but they were not co-ordinated and not following any particular theme, and came across as promoting individuals instead of the party. As a consequence of not having a properly co-ordinated communication strategy linked to a clear and distinct message, the party did not have a positive impact on the voters,” said the committee, which offered an extensive list of recommendations for the party going forward.
However, it noted that several of its recommendations had already been made by the committee which reviewed its 2016 election defeat, but these were never implemented.
Among the many recommendations from Franklyn and his team was for the party to begin to work assiduously to overcome the divisions among its ranks.
“If it does not, it will be in Opposition for a long time to come,” warned the committee in the report which was handed to Golding immediately after he defeated Lisa Hanna to take the PNP's top job on November 7 last year.
“The incoming leader of the party [must] address this issue as a matter of urgency, including placing it as an agenda item at every level of the party,” the committee said as it noted that in some divisions, constituencies and other areas of the party, mediation by external professionals may be required to overcome the deep-seated division among members who have been aching for many years.
“We recommend, as was done in the 2007 appraisal report, the holding, as soon as is possible, of a unity conference; the terms of reference to be worked out by the leadership of the party; [and] that a line be drawn in the sand by the new leader, representing a new beginning of forgiveness for the past indiscretions of party members.”
It also recommended that the PNP should embark on a series of consultations to settle its core values and philosophy, specifying that
the PNP should, “outline a clear vision of what the party needs to do to improve the social and economic condition of the Jamaican people; distinguish itself from the JLP, especially in economic policies; agree to a set of principles and standards to which party members must be held [such as] decency, honesty, integrity, et cetera; and have meaningful discussions on the relevance of democratic socialism to the party”.
Other recommendations include a strengthening of the party's code of conduct; an audit of all its groups with voting rights for all the members of “real” groups; improvements in its outreach and recruitment with a revised manual for new candidates; and a three- to five-year plan to mobilise funds for the party's day-to-day activities and for local and national elections.