Source: Jamaica Gleaner
With their massive defeat at the polls, the People’s National Party (PNP) has found itself in a deep pit in its quest for renewal. The fact that two candidates who never campaigned a day in their constituencies before the election was called defeated, or came within 14 votes of defeating sitting PNP members of parliament in so-called safe seats, sends one clear message: the people would rather vote for someone they do not know than vote for the current crop of PNP representatives. Indeed, this was the concern after the defeat in the 2016 general election.
The party embarked on a nationwide fact-finding mission with the purpose of determining how to make the party more attractive to the more discerning Jamaican voter. It appears that the attempts at renewal by the PNP over the last four years have been laid to waste by the juggernaut of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) election machinery. The expected review panel must now once again advise how the party should rebuild itself with new faces that will, at least on the surface, make it more attractive to the younger voters now enamoured with the JLP.
In preparation for the election, the PNP hierarchy recruited every young, upcoming Comrade with a national profile to be the party’s standard-bearers in the election. Now, every single one of these Young Turks who were supposed to be the face of the new PNP has been decimated in the polls. They will either walk away from representational politics, back to their successful careers, or spend the next five years in the trenches trying to win over the constituents who soundly rejected them.
The PNP needs to show Jamaica that the new faces of the party’s renewal efforts are fresh and promising. But by the look of things, it seems they played all their cards and there is not one young Comrade left to assist with this monumental task of winning over the populace with a new-look PNP.
Whoever is chosen as leader has the awesome responsibility of selecting from the experienced and the new electoral discards, the future leaders of the party. Let us hope, for the preservation of a strong opposition and our democracy, that Dr Peter Phillips, in his quest for a perfect slate of candidates, left a few aces up his sleeve.
With the exception of Mark Golding, the entire pro-Bunting faction, including its leader, have been sentenced to the political wilderness. There is none left to ‘rise’ to the occasion. Those who supported the presidency of Peter Phillips will now be forced to introspect as to whether they made the right decision, given his unfavourability ratings. Those who were an integral part of the failed campaign are now licking their wounds.
The choice of president will come from a narrow field. The second-tier leadership even narrower. Who among the 14 in Parliament and eight in the Upper House will be able to not only shoulder the responsibility of the dirty work of rebuilding the party, but at the same time themselves be viewed as credible faces of a new, reformed PNP? The combination of credibility and ability will be crucial in the choices of party leader and lieutenants.
Some left standing are more than capable but will not inspire confidence in the party’s renewal efforts. For others with the public appeal, the ability to unite the factions and rebuild the party structures with limited resources may fall short. This is the era of the compromise candidate.
Before the new leader is chosen, Dr Phillips has one final monumental task that could save his legacy: chose the actors and set the stage for the incoming president to lead a team that inspires confidence in true renewal.
The PNP can no longer put lipstick on a pig and expect the Jamaican voter to love it because it is orange. There must be a legitimate, comprehensive overhaul of the party. The days of the garrison are over. The public has to like what your party has to offer.
The people your party offers must be liked and they must perform. The JLP has done this with remarkable success. They have significant depth in their ranks and have set the stage for a third term if the PNP does not offer an equally impressive slate of candidates.
The PNP adage that this is PNP country has finally been put to rest in the most humbling of circumstances. The P.J. Patterson years created this myth when the party romped to victory in election after election after election. The myth was interrogated in 2016 and now Andrew Holness has overseen its internment.
When Tony Blair rebuilt a devastated Labour Party in the UK, he did so with the fresh blood needed to carry them to victory, not just in the next election but the subsequent ones. The playbook is not unique.
After every loss the PNP has been shown this playbook by its election review panel and advised that it needed renewal. The party has consistently ignored this advice and instead relied on the assumption that their base never voted in the loss and all they need to do for the next election is to bring out the base.
On September 3, 2020, the PNP base spoke loudly. They cried out for blood, fresh blood, or else they are not coming out to vote for the PNP. It marked the end of an era in Jamaican garrison politics.
In his final days as party president, akin to the elevation of Holness by Bruce Golding, Phillips must now bestow his blessings on who he considers to be the best leader and team members to lead the party into this new era. His responsibility is not only to his party, but to the fortitude of our democracy.
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