Crisis of Leadership - Losing the Plot?
Published: Sunday | January 29, 2006

"THE BEST laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft a-gley" ­ go oft awry. In politics, where personalities loom so large and the media glare magnifies every mishap and mistake, Robbie Burns' old saw goes double. Take the situation in Israel and Palestine.

A month ago Ariel Sharon towered over Israeli politics and boasted of having 'decapitated' the militant group Hamas ­ which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and calls for Israel's destruction ­ by assassinating its most prominent leaders. While George W. Bush reiterated again that democracy was the only route to peace in the Middle East.

Now Sharon lies comatose, having been felled by a stroke. In this week's elections Hamas unseated the long dominant Fatah party and now controls the Palestinian Parliament. While having seen his peace road map shredded by the very democratic process he has so resolutely encouraged, George Bush must now be ruefully pondering the ancient adage about being careful what you wish for since you just might get it.

Though in entirely different circumstances, the same thought might be going through our Prime Minister's mind. As 2003 began P.J. Patterson had every reason to be smiling. A few months earlier he had become the first Jamaican Prime Minister to win three consecutive elections and led his party to an unprecedented fourth straight term.

True the Jamaican economy was growing ­ at least officially ­ rather slowly. Yet, 2002 marked the sixth successive year of single figure inflation. And while still uncomfortably high at 1,045, the murder count was trending down. Yes, the October election had at 52 per cent People's National Party (PNP) to 47.3 per cent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) been far closer than the previous ones. But it was still a public mandate for his administration's policies.


Mr. Patterson could have justifiably claimed then to have liberalised the Jamaican economy and opened up the country to the forces of globalisation without having to unduly disturb the social fabric. With Dr. Peter Phillips as the clear heir apparent, P.J. must have looked forward to a seamless transition and the plaudits of posterity.

But somewhere along the line the smooth road to progress became a jarring potholed ordeal. Over the past three years the murder rate has skyrocketed by over 50 per cent, inflation has shot into the double digit range, and the planned 'seamless transition' has degenerated into an increasingly dirty and bad tempered all out brawl. To make no bones about it, Mr. Patterson's legacy is in tatters.

What went wrong? Well one problem is that like so many others before him, he stayed on too long. For some reason there seems an almost unwritten three wins and 10 years law in democracy. Leaders who try to hang on beyond this usually lose touch with the public and come to sorry political ends. Apparently extended power not only corrupts extensively, it can frustrate secretly ambitious underlings into becoming nakedly grasping rivals.

Take Margaret Thatcher, arguably the greatest of post-war leaders. The Iron Lady's decade plus in power transformed Britain and the world. And after becoming the longest serving and most successful British Prime Minister in a century in 1987, she could have planned a triumphant exit. Instead she tried to go on indefinitely and ended up being humiliatingly ejected in 1990 as party leader and Prime Minister.

Or look at Canada's Jean Chrétien, who might have gone down as a country transforming Prime Minister. But he also refused to countenance retirement. And his prolonged reluctant departure badly tarnished his reputation and divided his Liberal party, leaving it easy pickings for the opposition Conservatives in this week's elections.


It's understandable why leaders are so reluctant to leave. Leading a country is next to being God. Friends fawn over you, strangers tremble at your beck and call, and crowds wildly cheer your every move. Step down and the next day you are just another slightly more than average citizen. I guess it's the same reason ageing boxers never want to retire. When you've got used to being treated like a deity, it must be tough to go back to being a mere human being. To his credit Mr. Patterson did not have to be forced out. But he must now bitterly regret not taking his leave a couple of years ago.

P.J. has his critics. But even his enemies admit he's kept a steady hand on his party's tiller. Under his watch the PNP has always washed its dirty laundry in private and made changes in a deliberately organised manner. But in the last week the good ship Comrade has suddenly lurched toward the rocks.

First some PNP leadership candidates openly accused others of misusing Ministerial funds to bribe voting delegates. Then the Prime Minister appointed a new Governor General without consulting the Opposition, as has always been the tradition. All sides seem to think new man Kenneth Hall a good choice. But it's puzzling as to why such a crucial decision was made in such an uncharacteristically - for Mr. Patterson - high handed manner. Surely the consultative bipartisan routine the nation is used to would have appeared more statesmanlike and garnered more political capital. Is he subconsciously already in retirement mode and no longer really interested in such things?


But perhaps the most telling example of the PNP's current confusion is the time and place clash of the planned February 25th Prime Ministerial handover. Despite having three years to plan the matter, Mr. Patterson chose a date when the National Arena, the normal venue for these things, was already booked and the adjoining National Stadium is hosting the annual Gibson relays.

Frankly no one would have been surprised to see the perpetually disordered JLP act so carelessly. But for the half a generation that has become used to viewing the PNP - at least in comparison to its competitors - as a well oiled political machine, this mix up is quite a shock. A few months ago in his PNP conference farewell speech Mr. Patterson laid out a transition plan that had commentators lauding him as a 'master political strategist'. How could he have made such an elementary error as announcing the date before checking location availability?

The arena conflict has been sorted out, but the Gibson Relays date is fixed. Considering the volatility of Jamaican political followers - witness what happened in Golden Spring last week - common sense suggests a rescheduling of the grand coronation. Better an embarrassing climb down than the risk of a youngster attending the track meet being inadvertently harmed by some overexcited diehard.

After a three year wait, another week can't matter much. Unless the rumours are true that the popular people's choice is making huge strides on the ground and upsetting the well orchestrated plan to install the informed intelligentsia's selection. Is it 'Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear?' or 'If it no go so, it go close to so'?

From the PR perspective the PNP definitely needs to get this thing over as soon as possible. If the Labourite media arm has any sense it should by now have a bag of video clips to turn on the Comrades during the next general election. But with the mud slinging getting noticeably more vitriolic, can it be long before some candidate bursts into a classic belly laughter producing - at a later date - 'Cock Mouth Kill Cock' moment?

Which gives those of us who can't get enthusiastic about any of the candidates, or indeed either party, something to look forward to? It may be too much to hope for good governance in this country. But every self-respecting democracy expects its elected officials to provide decent quality entertainment.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: