Creating a narrative for the PNP
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.
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.