Editorial: Mark Golding marking time?

Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding
Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding (Photo credit: Jamaica Information Service)

When Portia Simpson-Miller invited Mark Golding to join the People’s National Party (PNP), he came to serve the party (hence his country) rather than to lead it and had no interest in doing so. Having served as a PNP senator, justice minister, and on the constituency executive of the South St Andrew garrison constituency, he was hand-picked by outgoing Member of Parliament (MP) Omar Davies to replace him. Golding became the beneficiary of the internal party struggle between the Peters (Phillips and Bunting) who were once allies in undermining former party leader and prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller. Phillips eked out a very narrow margin of victory over Bunting in the PNP leadership race. The Simpson-Miller faction remained very angry about how the former allies had treated their leader.

Bunting’s challenge to Phillips for leadership of the PNP (with the support of Golding) within two years of the 2020 General Election was one of the factors that made the PNP unelectable, the party was too deeply divided. Phillips resigned as party leader after the PNP lost the 2020 General Election. Bunting was also defeated as MP. The leadership of the PNP just fell into Golding’s lap, much to the chagrin of his enemies, because the expected strong contenders for leadership of the party performed poorly in the election. The PNP remains divided, and the internal rumblings, and the recent public outburst by Venesha Phillips (PNP councillor for the Papine Division) against the party leader means that Golding has a lot of work to do over the next four years and three months to unite the PNP. If he fails to do so, it will suffer defeat in the next general election. Party unity is Golding’s most urgent task.

Golding’s supporters argue that he is humble, calm, respectful, a successful lawyer and a prudent and rich investor with a capitalist vision who has the backing of the private sector and the traditional PNP Brown power. However, these supporters should bear in mind that although some private sector people do well in politics, many do not. This high rate of failure occurs because private sector persons have more control over their organizations, and what happens in them, than party leaders (and their functionaries) have over their parties, and the policy environment. Michael Lee-Chin controls what the National Commercial Bank does because he owns it, but he had no control over the Jamaican economy, controlled by the market forces of globalization, when he led the economic growth council. Those who have ears to hear let them hear.

Mark Golding appears to be marking time as PNP leader because he is functioning like all opposition party leaders of the past. He has meetings with party supporters and groups, appoints shadow cabinet ministers that are unsupervised, shows up to give his public support to citizens who are protesting against perceived government abuse, and criticises government policies in Parliament and states what he would do if he were the prime minister. This traditional approach means that the opposition party leader will only become popular with the electorate, when the prime minister becomes unpopular, and not because of what the opposition leader is doing. Golding is marking time as prime minister in waiting.

The current leader of the opposition needs to find a way to quickly unite the PNP, mobilize its base and inspire the electorate with clear and transformative policy ideas around which the Jamaican people can converge. These kinds of attractive, workable and transformative policy ideas will reveal the weaknesses of some of the current government policies, and redound to the advantage of the PNP in the next general election. Since Golding is not mobilizing the PNP into an inspiring, innovative and transformative opposition, he is indeed marking time!

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