Sunday, October 9, 2011

Election politics in Jamaica and Guyana

By Rickey Singh

TODAY, while Jamaicans contemplate a forthcoming battle between incumbent leader of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) Portia Simpson Miller, and the rising star of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Andrew Holness, to lead this nation following the next general election, Guyanese would be anxiously awaiting the official announcement of the date for new presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Guyana election date will come from its outgoing president, Bharrat Jagdeo, who became the youngest head of state in the Western Hemisphere at 35 and who will leave office at the comparatively young age of 47 after being executive president for a dozen years.

Constitutionally debarred from more than two successive five-year terms, Jagdeo is expected to announce Monday, November 28 as the date when the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP) will seek an unprecedented consecutive fifth term in government, this time under the leadership of its current 60-year-old general secretary, Donald Ramotar, an economist.

Ramotar's primary opponent will be the 65-year-old ex-Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force David Granger. He is the presidential candidate of a newly established opposition front, Partnership for National Unity which is dominated by the People's National Congress (PNC) that has been defeated by the PPP at all national elections since October 1992.

Here in Jamaica, now that Education Minister Holness has already obtained significant support from his JLP parliamentary colleagues, and appears to be popular within the party's traditional base, it is most likely that the endorsement for him to succeed Golding would be deferred for the party's November 19-20 annual convention.

By then, Guyana will be in the final week of election campaigning to choose a new 65-member Parliament and executive president. If in the case of Guyanese politics the incumbent PPP's central message will be, as already signalled, "continuity" for social and economic advancement, in Jamaica it would be quite different to market the new JLP leader with a similar message.

For, objectively, the social and political problems that finally forced Golding to quit as both party leader and prime minister (read the Christopher 'Dudus' Coke controversy as a major factor), would be very much part of the election campaign of the PNP's Simpson Miller. She can be expected to link Holness to the JLP's political culture — as difficult as such a strategy could prove.

The age factor has, surprisingly, been thrown into Jamaica's political mix of reasons for the sudden resignation announcement by Golding, who has chosen to emphasise a preference for a new generation of young leaders to be in control — in the best interest of the JLP and Jamaica.

Golding's plus & minus

The reality is that Golding, who will be 64 years old this coming December and is in good health, knows that age is not the substantive factor for his decision to walk away from the highest political office. He was certainly not going to face a leadership challenge at next month's convention, nor is he being magnanimous in suddenly making way for a suitable "young" successor.

Rather, having seriously compromised his political integrity in his controversial handling of the sensational issues that surrounded last year's extradition to the USA of the accused trafficker in drugs and guns, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke -- an influential JLP supporter -- Golding came to realise the serious damage he had wrought on confidence in his leadership judgement.

Further, and quite related, his decision was informed by how the Opposition PNP has been strategically manoeuvring to exploit the current national mood ahead of a new general election.
The suggestion that it's time to make room for a new generation of youthful leaders could also be self-serving as a parting shot by Golding against those elements within the JLP's decision-making councils and some senior Cabinet ministers who may have disappointed him at critical periods of his four years as leader of party and Government.

However, it is relevant to note here that even the more strident critics or opponents of Bruce Golding would have difficulty in ignoring an evident factor in his favour as a politician. He has, over the years, demonstrated a firm commitment to democratic governance (in party and government) — even when it came to opposing the leadership-style politics of his former mentor, Edward Seaga.

Some feel that Golding's plus factor would also point to the cultivation of a reputation for opposing corruption; And now, by his decision to quit as prime minister and JLP leader, he hopes to be remembered as a politician who did not wish to perpetuate himself in the structure of party leadership.

Holness vs Simpson Miller

Golding is departing as the first prime minister of Jamaica to voluntarily leave office without completing a first term. He is also the second to give up the prime ministership while still in good health, the first being P J Patterson.

So far as the PNP is concerned, having put to rest — expediently or not — some of the very bruising areas of internal division and discontent, it now appears as a party under Simpson Miller's continuing leadership, to be in readiness to resume control of the reins of state power when the election bell rings, either early or late next year -- depending on how the political wind is blowing with Holness as prime minister.

What both Holness and Simpson Miller would have in common is a desire to be prime minister for at least a full five-year term. The PNP leader had originally served in that office for less than a year when she succeeded Patterson before calling the September 3, 2007 general election that was lost to the JLP in a very tough battle and close outcome in terms of popular votes cast.

The PNP cannot, however, be unaware that the timing and manner of Golding's decision to quit as prime minister and leave the political landscape well ahead of a new general election would necessitate a critical reassessment of the party's electoral strategy for 2012.

Having already invested so much political capital in hammering away at the leadership blunders of Golding over the "Dudus fiasco" and more, the PNP would understand the need for its own post-Golding adjustments, which could also be a serious challenge for the JLP under the leadership of Holness.

October 09, 2011