Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s decision to leave the leadership of Jamaica is unexpected but not too difficult to appreciate. Under constant pressure on two fronts since the narrow (30-28) electoral victory of his Jamaica Labour Party in 2007, he and his government have since been faced with two substantial and difficult issues – the state of the Jamaican economy and the so-called Dudus affair. The latter put him into confrontation with the United States government, and then with majority public sentiment in his country.
The economic challenge was severe, Golding being the most recent of the prime ministers to have struggled with it since the end of the 1970s when the JLP’s Edward Seaga defeated the populist government of Michael Manley. Jamaica, on Golding’s assumption of office found itself in ever more debt than had become almost usual. The new government immediately faced strong pressure from the International Monetary Fund to take measures which, it was thought, would ameliorate the debt position. But even then, it was felt within Jamaica that this policy would do nothing within the five-year electoral period to initiate substantial economic growth.
This is the position that the JLP government finds itself in today as it approaches a general election due in 2012. From the perspective of Jamaica’s tourism economy, trends over the last four years have not been favourable, as austerity in Britain, wider Europe and the United States has continued, not allowing for a sufficiently substantial increase in tourism arrivals into the country. Golding is now being faced with another round of tough negotiations with the IMF which could hardly produce the kind of results that would engender popular support in time for next year’s general elections.
In the case of the economy, however, Golding at least had the support of a strong and persuasive Minister of Finance, Audley Shaw, to take some of the strain off him. But in the case of the Dudus affair, the Prime Minister found himself alone on the battle front, with his political objectivity in making decisions being widely questioned by friend and foe alike. Some of the rationale for the government’s decision to play for time, and then to resist outright the Americans’ demand for the extradition of the alleged drug baron, Christoper Coke, popularly known as Dudus, was eventually widely interpreted in terms of the latter’s residence in the Tivoli Gardens section of Golding’s Western Kingston constituency, inherited from former JLP Leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
Golding’s behaviour came to be widely seen in terms of not wishing to concede to the Americans’ demand for extradition for fear of the political backlash that it would bring against him in the constituency where Dudus was said to be highly popular. Probably to his surprise too, he received no support, but instead severe criticism from predecessor Seaga in the midst of the crisis, the former Prime Minister linking his temporizing over the decision with what he claimed had been similar behaviour by Golding in respect of his management of the economy.
But Golding did not only have a local, constituency challenge to what appeared to be a decision on his part to resist the extradition of Dudus. When he came under severe challenge during the course of the Commission of Inquiry which he established into the matter, he seemed to make a mistake to which not a few political leaders in our region are prone, and it cost him the support of the middle and professional classes in Jamaica. The mistake was to believe that in its conduct of the legal process, a United States government would be inclined to agree to subject it to political considerations and political modes of negotiating solutions. American officials have always to tended to argue (and obviously they are stronger in their arguments with small countries) that they have no space for political solutions to criminal matters, an approach which they appear to rigorously apply in the case of narcotics trafficking matters.
Golding, in seeking to use his party machine to intervene with American officials was quickly rebuffed by the Americans. But more than that, when knowledge of this stratagem became public, he sought to isolate the main party intermediary, a lawyer and longtime faithful member, denying that there was any relationship between that initiative and the operations of the formal legal system of the Jamaican government. The result was not only a domestic (JLP) uproar, but an opening for a ferocious attack from the opposition, doubts among the middle classes about Golding’s behaviour, and eventually the forcing of his hand towards the dismissal of his Attorney General.
In recent times, therefore, Golding has been perceived as causing unnecessary confusion in the management of the country’s affairs. It is felt that this has led to a lowering of the prestige of the country in the eyes of the United States – a sin which is virtually unforgiveable among a Jamaican population with extensive links, through migration, to that country. Many would have preferred – hard on public sentiment though this might have been – to see the path pursued at the same time in respect of the arrest and detention of the popular Buju Banton on narcotics charges, and to let the legal process proceed in respect of a private individual, without any public obloquy falling on Jamaica or its political leadership.
As the general election slated for 2012 draws near, recent polls have given no solace to Golding or the JLP as to their prospects at that time. The Jamaican population would appear to tolerate its government’s conduct of economic policy, even though the results, as we have suggested, have not as yet borne much fruit. It would appear that the elections will be fought on the people’s assessment of the general standing of the country in external eyes, and the extent to which the Dudus affair’s outcome is due to Golding’s weakness, and unjustifiable politicization of the matter. A second consideration would appear to be the failure of the government to bring the public administration under control – separating politics from public policy, particularly as this applies to the crime situation in the country. Golding would appear to be judged as failing in that regard. And it is that public sentiment which would seem to have influenced his decision to leave the leadership of the country.
In May 2010, in the midst of the Dudus affair, Golding offered to resign as Leader of the JLP and Prime Minister, but the party persuaded him otherwise. Though a similar plea has been made on this occasion, it is quite unlikely that the party’s view will, in the context of wider public sentiment, persuade him to go that route again.