At 67 years old, the current Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, is undoubtedly on the final leg of what has been an extraordinary political career. This quaint girl from Wood Hall, St. Catherine has defied all odds and now holds the highest political office in the land, complete with the styles and privileges. However, the career spanning some 30 years is fast drawing to a close, and political watchers and those in the People’s National Party are most certainly keenly interested in who will replace Mama P. Some conservative estimates venture that the Prime Minister will leave office as soon as 2014, perhaps sooner. The question then is, who will succeed Mrs. Simpson Miller as leader of the PNP? It’s not the ‘P’ you might think, at least I don’t think so anymore.
Conventional wisdom has produced such names as Dr. Peter Phillips, Peter Bunting, Anthony Hylton, Lisa Hanna and more recently Damion Crawford, as possible successors to the Prime Minister. It is my considered opinion that none of these names have any serious chance of succeeding as party president. Dr. Phillips, for his part, sealed his fate when he challenged the popular Simpson Miller for the party’s presidency, not once, but twice while the party languished in Opposition. I’m not sure the delegates who have proven themselves so loyal to the Prime Minister have quite forgiven Dr. Phillips. To compound that problem is the matter of his age; Dr. Phillips, by and large, represents the old guard of the PNP, literally and figuratively. Delegates may want to look to someone who is not only younger, but who has distinguished himself or herself as Minister. Dr. Phillips does not pass that test. He was undoubtedly a failure as National Security Minister and presently stands in the line of fire as Minister of Finance. By assigning him the difficult Finance portfolio, Mrs. Simpson Miller all but silenced his quest for her job.
While Peter Bunting may have the finances necessary to “buy” the leadership election, assuming the Prime Minister does not appoint her successor, (I have been reliably informed the party’s constitutional arrangements allow the party president to make such an appointment), I do not believe he stands any real chance of winning the presidency. You see, I believe Bunting was elected General Secretary, not because he is particularly liked, or even seen as any significant strategist, but because the conventional wisdom held that he would be able to attract funding, something the PNP had been woefully lacking as corporate Jamaica, at the time, had largely abandoned the party in favour of then Prime Minister Golding and his new look JLP. Quite apart from all that, Bunting does not pass the like-ability test. I fear personalities are just as important as policies in Jamaican politics. We have not yet risen above the idea that we are not voting for the candidate in our constituency, but rather we have latched on to the idea that a vote for the candidate is really a vote for the party leader, and consequently for the Office Of Prime Minister. The Westminster system neither envisioned or intended that outcome, but the Jamaican electorate frequently does so. When all that is considered, Bunting no longer appears as an attractive prospect for the party’s presidency.
The other two choices, Hanna and Crawford, are not really serious contenders either, they are more novelties who are future players. Hanna is only a second term MP, with no real political clout except that she’s favoured by the current party president. I was watching carefully to see whether the Prime Minister would demonstrate a strong sense of confidence in Hanna by the portfolio she was given. It didn’t happen. For Hanna to seriously be in contention for party leader, she would have needed to lead a more powerful ministry, Tourism perhaps. Or have Information added to her current Youth & Culture. Youth & Culture, by themselves, are not traditionally portfolio heavyweights in Cabinet. In addition, it seems unlikely that the boys’ club will support another female leader. Jamaican politics, for better or worse, is still a boys game. Hanna simply hasn’t paid her dues. As for Crawford, his is a nice name to throw around. Many admire his principled positions on issues of governance, and his fearless tendency to disagree with the establishment, but as a new M.P., just ten months on the job, and a mere junior Minister, it is very unlikely that Crawford is a serious contender. He is certainly one to watch though.
After finally paying attention to a colleague’s insistence, and having observed his current tenure so far as Minister, I believe the man best poised to, and most likely to succeed Portia Simpson Miller is the Minister of Energy and Telecommunications, The Hon. Philip Paulwell. The man former Prime Minister Patterson excused as youthful and exuberant has matured into quite the Minister, and he must not be overlooked. Despite his many foul ups under Patterson, Paulwell has been steadily positioning himself to assume the reins of leadership. It doesn’t hurt that he is perceived as one of the only, if not the only Minister, in the present administration who is really working and confronting the challenges under his portfolio. An op ed in the Jamaica Observer correctly tagged Paulwell as “the leading light to draw the PNP into the new 21st century.” and “the only sound voice in the present PNP administration.” Paulwell is a visionary who seems keen on tackling our nation’s energy challenges; in addition to that he has done well in revolutionising our telecoms sector. Both areas are fundamental to national development. I believe he is uniquely qualified to assume the leadership of the party. Having studied at the feet of both Patterson and Simpson Miller, one would assume he has picked up a few tips along the way. Even more importantly, Paulwell has paid his dues. He has been a loyal supporter of the Prime Minister, and her delegate support base may reward him for this loyalty to Mama P. Paulwell has the experience, the clout and the support – the winds are in his favour. The question is, will the nation as a whole accept him? Can he pass the crucial like-ability test? That is to be seen. What is certain is that he is a credible and formidable opponent to the Opposition Leader, such a campaign show down would be substantive.
He might not be the ‘P’ many of us expect to succeed Portia Simpson Miller, but he deserves a second look. Paulwell has paid his dues and is a credible choice for party president. We should pay attention to the Energy Minister, we may soon be calling him “Mr. Prime Minister”.