POLITICAL commentator Shalman Scott has added to the discourse surrounding activities within the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), cautioning that delegates must take into consideration voter apathy that has been besetting national polls in successive elections when they choose a new leader.
Scott’s comments follow yesterday’s Jamaica Observer front-page story which said St Ann South Eastern Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna had emerged as the front runner to replace PNP President Dr Peter Phillips in an Observer-commissioned Bill Johnson poll.
Phillips, after leading the party to a crushing 14-49 defeat in the September 3 General Election, has indicated that he is ready to walk away from the top job.
Yesterday, Scott, a former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) mayor for Montego Bay, said the leadership race must go beyond personality, appearance or even education.
Drawing on statistics from the last two general elections, he said in both instances more than 70 per cent of voters abstained from the polls for both the governing JLP and the PNP.
Pointing to the recently concluded election, he said that with a paltry 37 per cent voter turnout, only 21 per cent of the electorate found the JLP fit to lead the country and 16 per cent for the PNP, even with an increase in the number of registered voters.
“Talking about leadership and who will be what without paying attention to the monumental work that has to be done in a situation where there is growing apathy in the country towards both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party will not work. It has to be connected as to who is going to be able to lead, having understood where the problem exist and the apathy that is growing among the Jamaican electorate towards the two major political parties.
“That has to be a consideration in whatever they do. It is not just about the matter of personality, appearance and education. There are structural challenges that that leader is going to face in order to bring the party to a stage of compatibility with the Jamaican electorate and, by extension, electability,” he told the Observer.
In a statement yesterday, Hanna, a fourth-term Member of Parliament, said she does not see the poll result as an invitation to take anything for granted nor make assumptions.
“Of course the poll, done 10 days ago, is heartening but it is equally humbling as many Jamaicans, young and old, are still looking to the PNP with high expectations. It is imperative that the party responds by first renewing itself as a united force before it can contribute to helping Jamaica weather the storms ahead,” she said.
Hanna said, already, she has begun a process of consultation with senior party members, critical party groups and affiliates as well as individuals as part of taking a decision on whether to offer herself.
Johnson’s latest survey showed that Hanna, who won the Miss World crown in 1993, holds a 10 percentage point lead over her nearest rival, Mark Golding, the St Andrew Southern Member of Parliament who recently declared his intention to seek the presidency.
Twenty per cent of respondents said Hanna should replace Phillips, 10 per cent said Golding, while eight per cent pointed to Peter Bunting who, before the election, was regarded by many as the man to succeed Phillips. He lost his Manchester Central seat to political neophyte Rhoda Moy Crawford.
Trailing Hanna, Bunting and Golding in the latest poll are Damion Crawford, who was chosen by four per cent of respondents; PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson, who was favoured by three per cent; and party Vice-President Phillip Paulwell, two per cent.
Johnson’s poll was conducted September 11 to 13 among 1,000 voting-age Jamaicans islandwide. It has a sampling error of plus or minus three per cent.
“The threat to our democracy is staring us in the eyes because those numbers in terms of voter apathy do not lie. So, whoever the PNP is going to have as its leader going forward need to look at the broader picture,” said Scott.