Andrew vs Portia : The Big One
It was perhaps the most anticipated of Jamaica’s three political debates; staged at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, this instalment featured the Prime Minister, The Hon. Andrew Holness facing the Most Hon. Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller. However, this was not the knock out that many predicted. While we can agree that the Prime Minister prevailed slightly, the real story here is the performance of Mrs. Simpson Miller.
With her dismal 2007 debate performance fresh in the minds of Jamaicans, Mrs. Simpson Miller needed to prove she was competent enough to lead Jamaica into the next five years. To her credit, she performed admirably, holding her own against a Prime Minister who is perceived as more intellectually superior to her. To Holness’ discredit, he underperformed. The real question is though, has this debate aided you in coming to a clear position on who is more suitable to sit in Jamaica House?
While you ponder that, I want to highlight a few issues which stood out in my mind.
(1) The question about gays in the Cabinet.
Posed by Dionne Jackson Miller, the question sought a response from both leaders on the thorny issue of homosexuals serving in the top echelon of our government.
Mrs. Simpson Miller openly admitted that she would have gays in a Cabinet formed by her. Stating respect for human rights, Mrs. Simpson Miller told the country that one’s sexuality should never be a determining factor in appointment to positions in the government. I found Mrs. Simpson Miller’s candid response admirable, indeed brave. I think in stating a clear and definitive position, she displayed strong and decisive leadership; gaining for herself significant points.
Mr. Holness’ answer in and of itself was interesting. The Prime Minister basically told us that he could not act contrary to the public’s conscience. This too was a bold answer, considering the wrath that the former Prime Minister had incurred for his now infamous “Not in my cabinet” statement. Holness was clearly pandering to public sentiment in a far more diplomatic manner.
(2) The Renegotiation of the JPS, IMF & JDIP agreements.
The Opposition Leader has declared that within two weeks her party will renegotiate the three agreements. I find this presumptuous at best. It dealt a significant blow to the credibility of the PNP in these matters, considering that a significant portion of their economic agenda is predicated on the renegotiation of said contracts. Mrs. Simpson Miller needed to have shown Jamaica where this was credible and achievable, I do not believe she was successful in that regard. I have been one of the chief doubters as it relates to the renegotiation of these contracts and after the answer given tonight, I am no more comfortable than I was when it was first announced.
(3) The Abolition of the Westminster System.
Having heard Mrs. Simpson Miller’s response, I am not entirely certain she understands what the model is or what the abolition of same would mean. Mrs. Simpson Miller has committed to a “Jamaican Queen”, but I’m still left wondering will this Queen be a figure head? Will the Queen have executive powers, to be exercised at her own discretion without the advice of the Prime Minister? We needed to hear those details. Mr. Holness’ answer was terribly vague and generally lacking. I’m particularly disappointed in Mr. Holness considering the former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, had committed to removing the Queen as Head of State and installing a President. Mr. Holness could have handled this question much better. He also squandered his final question in labouring the Trafigura issue. A much better question would have been about the same team the PNP is presenting it did in 2007.
Generally, this debate was of a very low standard. It betrays a serious deficit in leadership in our politics. A deficit riddled with vague answers, poor grammar and a general lack of substance. Mr. Holness squandered a significant amount of political capital by his under performance. Mrs. Simpson Miller was able to sufficiently silence her detractors with a credible performance, but no where near what we would expect of a candidate for the Office of Prime Minister. Though I’ve said Mr. Holness had a slight edge, I would not consider it a victory. There was no clear winner. In this debate, Jamaica lost. We, the people, lost.
The decision is now yours. On December 29th, you determine the future of our country. We have as our choices, a veteran politician of some 30 years. She has served as Minister of Tourism, Sport, Welfare, Labour, Social Security and Prime Minister but has this experience prepared her for a mandate from the people? Has she performed credibly? You decide. She is against a 39 year old, 3 term parliamentarian, Minister of Education and Prime Minister. He has sold himself as a post independence leader, fresh and with new ideas. He wants a new Jamaica and a new style of governance. Are you convinced? Do you believe this young man can form a team to rescue our country from crippling debt, unemployment and various socio-economic ills?
On December 29th, you decide.
“This is a dark time my love.” – Martin Carter.