Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Sunday Night at the Fights: A Crisis of Leadership in the PNP?

From all appearances the sitting President of the Peoples’ National Party (PNP) was to have expected a challenge from her former arch nemesis Dr. Peter Phillips, the most senior Vice President in the Party, despite previous claims to the contrary by him. He challenged her in 2006 and lost in a narrow defeat which brought the, then, very popular Party Leader to power and, ultimately, Prime Minister of Jamaica. In this regard, Mrs. Simpson Miller has always been in, what Frantz Fanon calls a “nervous condition”, in large part because so many of the Party’s top executives were said to be in opposition to her Leadership. That, however, did not change the fact that she became Prime Minister, though it did impact the extent to which she was able to perform successfully in that role.

With history against her, as it is felt that she did not live up to expectations, Dr. Phillips’ supporters are now licking their chops in preparation for what is perhaps felt to be a sure defeat for Mrs. Simpson-Miller, a sort of Cinderella character at the Jamaican political ball. However, is the timing of the challenge of the Party Leader a good move, especially considering that most people are of the view that the sitting Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) are failing miserably in their role as state administrators?

Indeed, on Sunday night when the dramatic announcement came during the Community Vision Media's (CVM) 8 o’clock newscast that there was a meeting at the Harbour View Primary School in St. Andrew, most people had expected to hear that this was to be the ultimate announcement. We were not disappointed. This leads us now to consider the implications for the timing of this announcement, especially as there may be a real (?) chance that the PNP might yet again take control of Jamaica House.

One cannot help but feel; however, a sense of deja-vu in relation to this auspicious announcement and how the PNP’s political machinery was handled in the weeks leading into the General Elections, last year. Mrs. Simpson Miller was eventually relieved of the post of Prime Minister and her Party declared runners-up in the very closely contested political battle. In the final analysis, there were only so few seats which separated the two which then ushered in current PM Bruce Golding to power.

Though, still considered a very popular woman, politician and leader, there is no doubt that the heady days of the near god-like charm and charisma that followed Mrs. Simpson-Miller to the helm of the PNP and, ultimately, the nation’s top job has now been significantly altered. By all appearances, her defeat at the September polls, in the aftermath of a very unpopular State of Emergency and a very devastating hurricane (Dean), from which many are only still recovering, has left the Party Leader a sitting duck in dangerous waters. Dr. Phillips and his supporters have bided their time and are now driving the final nail in the coffin of Mrs. Simpson-Miller’s political fortunes, almost as a means of ensuring that her campaign for being the first female head of state in Jamaica to take office, twice, will be effectively sealed off.

Indeed, one cannot help but feel that this is part of the “Drumblairites” efforts to deny the likelihood of a PNP Government headed by Mrs. Simpson-Miller, again. So, annoyed they appear to be that they are seemingly prepared to sacrifice the Party for the long term objective of keeping Mrs. Simpson Miller out of power. Remember the furore over the announcement of the second date for the elections when it was said that both Mrs. Simpson Miller and then Minister of Education Mrs. Maxine Henry Wilson engaged in a physical scuffle after the Education Ministry announced a date in keeping with the late reopening of schools? This was after the previously mentioned hurricane affected the first date of August 27, 2007.

Surely, there is no denying that the PNP stands a real chance at the polls, money issues aside. On the other hand, some pundits argue that, the PNP are cash starved and will remain so for as long as Mrs. Simpson Miller is head of the Party, as there are many who refuse to support her as leader. If the Jamaican proverb: “if fish come outta wata bottom come tell yuh sey dung deh dutty, believe im!” (If a fish comes out of the water bottom (of a river) and tells you that down there is dirty, you had better believe him!) is true and, political rumours of this kind are to believed, then efforts were made in the last campaign to starve the Party of funds. The Comrades Against Portia (CAP) group, it is said, had much to do with diverting funds away from the campaign and, quite possibly, into the coffers of the Jamaica Labour Party. At any rate, monies not received for the PNP, at that time, would naturally be a boost to the JLP, even if those funds did not go to the JLP.

So, what has Mrs. Simpson Miller done that has warranted this very serious crisis of support inside her own Party? Some have claimed that she is very clannish and does not listen to (good) advice and also that she talks too much! Indeed, we will not soon forget the credit card saga or even the “doan draw mi tongue” (don’t draw my tongue!) episode which both Dr. Phillips as well as the JLP used to full advantage in their respective campaigns. In the case of the latter, it helped cement a JLP victory whereas in the former the cracks in the once formidable armour of the much loved Party Leader were opened up for all to see. She has never recovered since. It was only a matter of time before it was widely reported that she was “out of her depth” and “could not manage the job of PM”.

This most recent challenge has caught both Mrs. Simpson-Miller and the Party under different circumstances. She is now Leader of the Opposition and the PNP has been out of power for the first time in eighteen years. The likelihood of another bruising battle, this time against a sitting Leader of the Party presents all other sorts of implications and possibly complications, especially considering that Mrs. Simpson Miller may have chance of winning the next elections; that is, if we are to believe the word on the street.

My barber tells me, for instance, that as a staunch supporter of the JLP and Mr. Golding, specifically, the “Cassava Government” as they are now widely referenced is not liked by the majority. He claims that an election at this time will mean sure defeat for the same Party that was touted as the answer to the corruption of the PNP and the only solution to poverty which stalks the land. As a matter of fact, it was in that same barber shop that I was pointedly advised that my, then, support for Mrs. Simpson Miller would not result in success as the PNP was on its way out. In the barber’s words: “Sista P cyan manage!”

If we are to invest faith in these pronouncements, bearing in mind that barber shops are the meeting places for all sorts of people from different walks of life, as well as that some of the predictions given in this barber’s chair as well as elsewhere have come to pass, can we realistically believe that the JLP will loose? That, of course, depends on whether Mr. Dabdoub succeeds in unseating Mr. Daryl Vaz as the duly elected Member of Parliament (MP) for West Portland and, therefore, forces PM Golding to call an election.

One friend and a business owner advises differently. In her estimation, the Appeals Process has the likelihood of dragging on for years, which will mean the JLP will serve out its term. This will possibly make way for the PNP if the JLP continues at the current rate. In that regard, the challenge to Mrs. Simpson Miller could not be better timed. After all, if Dr. Phillips wins the leadership race, as he is expected to do, then, the JLP would basically be campaigning for the return to power of the PNP under his leadership. The timing of the announcement and eventual challenge of Mrs. Simpson Miller, therefore, seems to have taken account of more than just a matter of a short term victory for the PNP at the polls but to look seriously at rebuilding the Party around certain core ideas about leadership, one of which is, undoubtedly, class privilege.

That, of course, has been a common theme in my entries here, in large part, because I feel it is not always sufficiently acknowledged in Jamaica and is taken for granted by those who have it. As a result, privilege is generalized to the rest of the populace to suggest a fictional equality which does not really exist for all. It is in that context that that Mrs. Simpson Miller’s failings as leader are to be understood.

You cannot be an average or even good leader when you are not born of the privileged social, political and economic elites in Jamaica, certainly if you are female. On the contrary, you have to be twice as good and twice as "nice" to make it for any length of time. Just ask the African-Americans in post-Civil Rights America and they will tell you an earful in that regard. Even then, it is said that you are still not allowed to excel to top positions whether in government, business, or some other area of industry.

We in Jamaica deny that these are real considerations in our constructions and, ultimately, the performance of identities on the socio-political landscape. Those who receive immediate support are those who come closest to embodying the ideal – white, upper-class, educated, Christian, heterosexual masculinity, or who can successfully appropriate it. Any projects which vary (too far) from this ideal, as in the case of the former PM Simpson Miller, will have a significantly harder time rallying support, especially from these social and political enclaves. These, unfortunately, are the realities in which we live in Jamaica.

Who will bell the cat and who will insist that projects of equality must be exactly that – equal? Who is going to demand for real development of all areas of the society through meaningful, lasting and appropriate policies; not just by responding to every criticism made in the public domain and certainly not just for the political ‘poor’? Who is going to include young professionals and ‘young people’ into the frameworks of governance, beyond the simplicity of platitudinous maxims like: “our youth are the future”? What is their role and is that defined in such a way as to appropriately reflect the commitment and mobilization of real resources for their integration into the development frameworks of the society?

Where is the parity in a system which awards heritage, colour and class over and above talent? Where is the justice which ensures that, those detained and placed in state lock-ups and are allowed to languish for years without trial or ever being seen by a judge, yet alone a lawyer? Where is the moral centre needed to understand the significance of adhering to core values of determination, trust, credibility, fraternity and respect for all? And, who will be the champion of this cause?

Where too, is the conviction of character needed to put an end to political corruption and various vices, nepotism, unfair systems of privilege and the scourge of crime that continue to undermine the fibre of the nation? What even is the ‘nation’ and how important is that in raising the profile of citizenship issues and rights throughout all sectors of Jamaica? Is this what the leadership bid of Dr. Phillips represents, at this time? If so, sign me up!

However, if it is simply to undermine “woman time now” sentiment and “teach Sista P a lesson” as a way of reminding her that she “does not belong” and “cannot cut it”, as a result, I will pass. Thank you very much!

The shifting tides of the political fortunes of the PNP Leader and the PNP, itself, are a source of extreme fascination for all, both inside as well as outside of Jamaica. After all, Jamaica is said to be “PNP Country”. Whether or not that is true or whether this new fight for power inside the Party will return it to its “soul”, as many claim, remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, however, the battle for supremacy announced on Sunday last by Dr. Phillips, at the Harbour View Primary School, throws open the door for another round of bloodletting from which the Party might not recover in time for a “snap election”, if one is, indeed, called.

Sunday Nights at the Fights, anyone?...Just curious!

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