PNP Race: Heart vs Head
Published: Sunday | September 14, 2008


Politics, goes an old adage, is two-thirds emotion and one-third intellect. And in the heat of elections, when the battle is soon to be lost or won, the ratio often seems to be nine to one.

Intra-party fights can be as vicious as broad-based elections, or even more so. Veteran political observers remember Pearnel Charles and Rosemarie Shaw being physically assaulted at the 1992 JLP conference. Now, when the unlettered masses, or 'the lumpen' as Professor Don Robotham likes to call them, get carried away and do foolish things, you hear people remark, "Well them just don't know better." But when highly educated people start acting in a totally irrational manner, all one can say is c'est la politique.

who to trust

Last week the highly educated Fitz Jackson and Basil Waites spent half an hour on radio basically shouting at each other, 'Your side is tiefing more than my side!'. Neither of these usually erudite gentlemen seemed to comprehend the reality that no matter who triumphs on September 20, they will sooner or later try to convince the Jamaican people to vote them back into power. But can the electorate trust a party whose members publicly say they don't trust each other?

Though neither Messrs Waites nor Jackson went as far as Paul Burke, who paid a station to broadcast his speech declaring the whole PNP voting process irredeemably corrupt, and said that he will not accept the results no matter who wins.

What was the PNP executive's response to all of this? To put a media gag order on all those involved in the race, including the two leadership contenders. At least, that was the case as this is written, since the gag has been imposed, then rescinded, then imposed again, creating a situation where not even Comrade insiders seem sure of what they can or can't do.

Now, such restrictions would be quite appropriate for the Cuban or Chinese communist parties. But can one imagine such an order being given by the US Democrats or Republicans, or the British Tories or Labour Party, or the Canadian Liberals or Conservatives?

Burke ... Says voting process is corrupt. - File photos

laughed to scorn

When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were bruising each other in the Democratic primary earlier this year, what would have happened if the Democratic Party had told the respective teams, "Sorry, no more talking to the media unless we approve what you say"? They would have been laughed to scorn. As should the PNP in this case. As a Jamaican proud of our democratic heritage, it's embarrassing to see our oldest major party lower itself to the level of the Worker's Party of Korea in terms of media access.

A fundamental principle of democracy is that the people cannot make proper decisions if they are not properly informed. If you are going to vote for someone, you have the right to hear that person and his aides fully explain why they deserve to be elected. The 4,500 PNP delegates, who will decide this leadership race, are supposed to be proxies who listen closely to the true feelings of all PNP supporters, and then vote in the best interests of the party.

Fitz Jackson- File

But if the people are not allowed to be privy to the latest developments in the contest from now 'til September 20, how can this election be called fully democratic? This media gag order is really making Paul Burke's 'non-democratic' accusations into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although Burke's comments remind some of a football team two goals behind with five minutes to go, and who suddenly start shouting 'The referee tief we!'

Those who claim it's only the media who are complaining about the gag order forget that the media are only middlemen whose job is to give the public whatever reasonable information it demands. The press does not create news for its own consumption. A grumbling press is usually a grumbling public.

foolish and indecisive

Still, even if its stop and start media ban makes it look both foolish and indecisive, one can understand where the PNP secretariat is coming from. The animosity displayed in this contest has astonished everyone. But that doesn't justify treating those aspiring to leading a party and country like children, and locking them away from view because they are embarrassing you. Surely, both leadership contenders can issue joint statements disavowing all scurrilous accusations from whatever source. That is how 70-year-old political parties are supposed to act.

source of hostility

But what is the source of all the hostility? Surprisingly, it's the supposedly 'retired' folk who are causing much of the stir. Roger Clarke and Danny Buchanan, and John Junor and Harry Douglas all claimed to have stepped down from the limelight. But here they are fighting tooth and nail with each other. What gives?

Some say it's a matter of class - the Drumblairite elite wants Peter, the grass-roots massive wants Portia. Others see a generational divide, with the old guard backing Peter, and the prominent young turks like Lisa Hanna, Mark Golding, Basil Waite, Sandra Faulkner and Raymond Pryce lining up behind Portia. And there are careers at stake. For the Peter camp especially, it's seen as a now-or-never throw of the dice.

Leadership challenges are a part of democracy, but they usually take place when the person in charge is either retiring or highly unpopular. It's rare, if not unprecedented, for a party to try and push out someone highly favoured in the polls. But that's the case here. In every survey taken Mrs Simpson Miller is favoured over Dr Phillips to lead the PNP.

It's widely felt that the PNP hierarchy and the big money men want a Peter victory. But the masses are still showing a strong personal attachment to Portia. The big question is, which way will the delegates go? Are they being bought, as many are charging? Will they reflect the popular will and choose Sista P? Or will they take the view of so many PNP insiders, that Dr Phillips has superior managerial capacity, and is the best person to lead the party right now. Will the head or the heart prevail?

quickly heal

Whatever the outcome, let's hope the PNP can quickly heal its wounds and become a credible electoral force in short order. No one wants a 1990s rerun in reverse, with a completely dominant government running roughshod over a divided opposition, and raiding the public treasury at will.

In the end we must have faith in democracy. As Garnet Roper recently said on radio, the Jamaican people have never chosen wrongly. It's not just luck that since universal suffrage began in 1944 we have never experienced a single major political disturbance. Or that no elected government has tried to entrench itself, or had its legitimacy challenged - which, in the end, are the true tests of democracy.

We may all have our failings as individuals, but en masse we have shown wisdom. The PNP delegates will no doubt continue that great Jamaican tradition.

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