Cre­at­ing a nar­ra­tive for the PNP

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

IF THE Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) is look­ing for pos­i­tive out-takes from Mon­day’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, there are two sig­nif­i­cant ones.

The first, and most ob­vi­ous, is that it was not hu­mil­i­ated at the polls. It won four of the 13 par­ish mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, plus the one, in­clud­ing its di­rectly elected mayor, for the re­gion of Port­more, in the par­ish of St Cather­ine. It tied, in terms of the num­ber of di­vi­sional seats, in the par­ish of St Thomas, al­though it will likely con­cede the may­or­ship, and cast­ing vote, hav­ing lost the pop­u­lar vote. In any event, mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions held not long af­ter a na­tional par­lia­men­tary vote are usu­ally won by the party that con­trols the gov­ern­ment, in this case, the Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP), which has held power since March.

This, then, is the broad con­text for the sec­ond, and per­haps more im­por­tant, take­away the PNP can ex­tract from Mon­day’s re­sults: the op­por­tu­nity it fur­ther pro­vides for it to craft a nar­ra­tive for a dig­ni­fied exit of its leader, Por­tia Simp­son Miller, so that the party can get on with the busi­ness of re­newal, in­clud­ing a clear (re)def­i­ni­tion of it­self.

As this news­pa­per and oth­ers of­ten ob­serve, the PNP has since the 1990s been largely an elec­tion ma­chine, at which, un­til re­cently, it was ex­tremely suc­cess­ful. It es­sen­tially was shorn of or dis­in­ter­ested in its Fabian so­cial demo­cratic un­der­pin­nings to which it would re­turn af­ter pe­ri­ods of de­vi­a­tion or dis­en­gage­ment. So, while the re­cent PNP ad­min­is­tra­tion rightly pushed through IMF-in­spired re­forms that sta­bilised the macroe­con­omy, it didn’t ap­pear to ra­tio­nalise how its pur­suance of eco­nomic or­tho­doxy fit­ted into a po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy/ ide­ol­ogy to which it could be com­fort­able and faith­ful.

In the event, there was a dis­con­nect be­tween the pop­ulist dec­la­ra­tions of some in the party, in­clud­ing Mrs Simp­son Miller, and the un­avoid­able aus­ter­ity that came with re­pair­ing a long badly man­aged and in­ef­fi­cient econ­omy, with an un­sus­tain­able na­tional debt and lit­tle growth. So, on Mon­day, in an elec­tion that is usu­ally a con­text be­tween the bases of the par­ties – and in which 30 per cent of the elec­torate cast bal­lots – the PNP couldn’t muster much of its own. It gained 47 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote.

CRED­I­BLE NAR­RA­TIVE

Yet, all this need not mat­ter. For in the con­text of the low poll, where the voter turnout was four per cent fewer than for the 2012 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, nei­ther can the JLP claim to have crowned it­self in great glory. It didn’t have a run­away vic­tory. Rather, the elec­torate re­mained aloof from this as­pect of na­tional gov­er­nance.

On the con­text of the PNP re­build­ing, herein rests the out­line of a cred­i­ble nar­ra­tive upon which Mrs Simp­son Miller, 70, and clearly past the height of her charis­matic pow­ers, can de­part with­out feel­ing that she is be­ing chucked out, the vic­tim of the move­ment that gained strong voice in the af­ter­math of the Fe­bru­ary na­tional elec­tion.

Hav­ing seen off Karl Blythe’s weak chal­lenge, and is per­haps still un­de­feat­able within the party, Mrs Simp­son may well be dis­in­clined to em­brace the nar­ra­tive. But then she could find her­self lead­ing only part thereof – a bedrag­gled gang, rather than a co­he­sive group.

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