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Is The JLP Doomed To Repeat The Past?


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After two crushing defeats at the polls, the 69 year old Jamaica Labour Party has found itself at a crossroads.  The party’s newly minted leader, Andrew Holness, has found himself caught between the agenda of the past and a desire to move boldly into the future. The party finds itself divided and fractured, with various segments peddling their personal ambitions – there is even talk of a coup to over throw the top echelons of the party. As all this unfolds, one can’t help but wonder if the party of Sir Alexander Bustamante has once again lost its way and whether it is doomed to repeat the sins of its troubled past. The most heinous of all these sins was the constant attempts to oust Edward Seaga.

It is often said that Edward Seaga was an autocratic leader who stifled progress within the party, and alienated the electorate with his “one don” attitude. Despite various attempts to unseat him, Seaga held the reins of the party firmly, vain enough to believe he was still a viable option to P.J. Patterson; his vanity cost the JLP dearly. I believe the fact that Seaga presided over a divided party also factors into his string of electoral defeats. Still, for all his pride and exaggerated sense of self importance, Seaga seemed to understand the Labour Party. It would appear that Seaga recognised that the labourites needed firm direction, otherwise the crab-like mentality would have taken hold and potentially destroyed the party. Former party Bruce Golding realised this too, but he also recognised that in order to maintain his hold on power, he had to appease the various elements in the party. He had to offer everyone a piece of the pie. Golding therefore attempted to please everyone, this eventually led to his undoing and disgraced exit from the party’s top job. Fast forward four years later and the cracks are beginning to show again. It causes me to wonder if the JLP is a party incapable of managing itself. Is Seaga’s one don approach what the party needs in order to keep it from imploding? Andrew Holness might want to pay attention.

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I’ve always said that in politics, perception is very important. It matters how things seem. Despite attempts by party insiders to down play current tensions, the damage is being done. You see, the electorate is taking note of the JLP’s squabbles and the question being asked, as was the case in the 1990’s, is how can I trust you to govern the country, when you cannot govern yourselves? The PNP heeded that lesson and banded together in a mock show of unity in the lead up to the 2011 general election, the perception that the party was unified helped them at the polls. They seemed ready to govern.  It would appear that members within the Labour party do not trust the internal mechanisms designed to address disputes, and therefore must air the dirty laundry in open, public court. That kind of behaviour does not inspire confidence with the electorate, nor does it fit into the idea that the old, indecisive and splintered party is gone. If the party isn’t careful, new voters will experience the Seaga era apathy towards the party which will doom the JLP back to the political wilderness.

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A change of the old guard has become necessary. Andrew Holness must rid the party of those who would seek to completely wipe out the credibility that was so delicately patched together in the lead up to the 2007 general elections. The JLP MPs are, of course, not immune to the problem of not knowing when to bow out, which is a general staple in Jamaican politics. These members continue to stubbornly cling to power, failing to realise that they have long out lived their usefulness and capacity to generate sound policies for nation building. One would hope Seaga’s stubborn insistence would have served as a cautionary tale. No such luck. If the old guard continues to retard Holness’ efforts at modernisation and renewal in the JLP, the party will miss a prime chance to wrestle control of parliament from the PNP. Make no mistake, if the PNP wins the next general elections, the JLP’s window for an electoral victory any time soon would have been sealed shut.

The tide has already started to turn against the PNP. The dollar is on the slide, crime is on the rise – and a bad situation seems set to worsen with the pending departure of the Prime Minister. The JLP must begin to position itself to benefit from the internal division which will inevitably occur when Portia Simpson Miller steps aside. In short, the PNP will be weakened by a leadership election – this is almost certain, since historically our political parties have not been able to deal with these matters in a civil manner- the JLP must ready it self to be a credible alternative to form the government. Holness must realise that if he’s to get ahead, he has to play the game.

The JLP must band together and do so quickly. The electorate will not trust a fractured party, they will not trust a leader who presides over a divided house. Holness must now properly assert himself as leader and silence the voices of dissent, mischief and discord. He must find a way to channel Seaga, without becoming a dictator. Otherwise, the JLP seems doomed to repeat the past.. the troubled, divided past.

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2 responses

  1. Reblogged this on WORLDLIFEHYPE.ORG.

    November 19, 2012 at 11:20 am

  2. MikeT

    The JLP is doomed to repeat the past as long as it keeps repeating the mistake of not holding proper elections for the leadership position. As Holness was basically selected and not elected (nobody ran against him), he doesn’t really have a firm base of support in the party. How is it that a person who has a position gifted to him is going to be able to exert authority over persons in more junior positions who have actually faced opponents in an election for that position and won? How can Holness tell Horace Chang (a member of the old guard) for instance to step aside when Chang beat out Joan Gordon-Webley for the position of General Secretary? Chang won his election for the internal position against opposition and therefore has a real mandate as General Secretary. Holness on the other hand is beholden to all these factions for simply not opposing his (s)election as Leader of the JLP. He can’t really point to having solid support among the delegates of the party, hence anybody can feel like they can legitimately challenge him or stand up to him and go their own way within the party structure. After all if he can’t really threaten to kick them out, because that would risk the possibility that the persons he threatens to kick out of the JLP will simply band together and choose a challenger for his position from among themselves and threaten to beat him in a contested leadership election at any JLP annual conference.

    The PNP for all its faults has contested elections for the position of leader of the party. As you rightly pointed out members of the JLP do not seem to trust the internal mechanisms designed to address disputes; whereas for the members of the PNP they generally do which is why they air less of their dirty laundry in public. And assuming that the PNP was showing mock unity in 2011 is quite a leap of faith to make given that I’m sure that you aren’t privy to the dirty laundry. Yes, many within the PNP had problems with Portia, but after Portia won TWO contested leadership elections (beating Phillips, Davies and Blythe in 2006 and beating Phillips again in 2008) they genuinely seem to have been able to reach an eventual understanding to bury the hatchets (which is not impossible in politics – you don’t have to like the person; you just have to be willing to work with them or under them). Hence why Peter Phillips went from being in the political wilderness post-2008 (when he resigned as opposition spokesperson on national security) to being catapulted to the second most important position in the Westminster system (that of finance spokesman and later finance minister; in the Westminster system finance ministers often go on to become prime ministers).

    And you aren’t quite right when you say “In short, the PNP will be weakened by a leadership election – this is almost certain, since historically our political parties have not been able to deal with these matters in a civil manner-” because historically the PNP has only been weakened in the run-up to the leadership race; not after. That is why the PNP were able to win in 1993 after having a leadership election in 1992 between PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller. And that is why despite all the factors being in favour of the JLP, the PNP only narrowly lost the 2007 election following the 2006 leadership contest (and it turns out that had the election been followed according to the law the JLP would not have had a majority of legitimate MPs anyway given how many knowingly ran while being ineligible). In contrast the JLP has not had a contested leadership election since Wilton Hill challenged Seaga in 1974. With nearly 4 decades of tradition of having non-contested elections for the presidency of the party, is it any wonder that since 1980 the JLP has only won 2 contested general elections (1980 and 2007) and 1 uncontested general election (1983)? And of those elections 2007 was so close it could have gone the other way and that a Stone poll revealed that had the PNP not boycotted in 1983 they could have won that election?

    Had Seaga stepped aside or lost the leadership in 1993/94 then perhaps the JLP would have had different electoral fortunes in 1997. A new leader could have emerged with a REAL mandate from within the party. Instead Seaga hung around until (rumour has it) he was pushed out by the influential Shower Posse and replaced by Bruce Golding in a non-contested election. Bruce was thus beholden to all the internal factions as well to external influences (the Shower Posse drug dealers). This might also explain why Golding fought so hard to defend Dudus and why his position became untenable once the US pressured him into doing the right thing; whereas Patterson nor Phillips fought to protect Zekes (imprisoned), Bulbie (killed), Willie Haggert (killed), Phang (killed), Oliver “Bubba” Smith (killed), Norris “Deedo” Nembhard and Leebert Ramcharan (both arrested and extradited without anything close to the craziness of 2010). Patterson having his constituency in Westmoreland and having won the leadership contest was not beholden to factions in the PNP nor to gangs affiliated to the PNP but had his own base. Thus he could continue in his position even if the police killed, arrested and/or extradited gang leaders and even if some in the PNP did not like him. The longer the JLP continues this tradition of non-contested elections though the longer I think they will find themselves hamstrung when facing general elections.

    May 1, 2013 at 8:40 am

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