The hour draws nigh. In just about twelve hours, approximately five thousand two hundred delegates of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will converge on the national arena to cast their votes for leader of that party. Theirs is no enviable task. In one corner sits the incumbent; the cool, calm, collected and self-styled transformational leader. He is a former Prime Minister, the former Minister of Education, the former Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, and current Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition; his name is Andrew Holness. In the other corner sits the challenger. He is the self-styled “Man-A-Yard”, allegedly the best hope to return the Labour Party to government. He is the former Minister of Finance and the Public Service and current Opposition Spokesman on Finance. His name is Audley Shaw. As tomorrow’s vote draws closer, the pundits are busy making predictions as to who will emerge leader when the dust clears on Sunday afternoon. In my last few posts on this leadership contest, I urged delegates to choose Andrew Holness. I listed, as best as I knew how, the reasons Mr. Holness should be retained as leader of the party. I am now prepared to go a step further; I predict that Andrew Holness will be retained as leader of the JLP tomorrow. Here’s why.
From as far back as I can remember, there has been a discussion regarding age and political representation. Many people opined that Jamaica’s political leaders were too old, and it was time for fresh blood to be pumped into the political system. This line of thinking was strengthened when the great liberal democracies of the United States and Great Britain elected forty year olds, in the persons of Barack Obama and David Cameron, to lead their countries. In an ode to youth, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding effectively prejudiced the race to replace him by calling for a new generation of leadership; realizing they had lost both the battle and the war, the old men of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) dropped their weapons, and lined up behind the youngest of the lot. Thus Andrew Holness was given a clear path to the leadership of the JLP and to Jamaica House. We are now two years on, and his position is under threat of a challenge; those of us who can see pass the here and now are realizing that the challenger, Mr. Audley Shaw, aged 61, represents a very risky gamble for the JLP. Mr. Shaw’s pending challenge brings the issue of youth and leadership to the fore, and if not treated carefully, it will have disastrous consequences.
If recent media reports are to be taken seriously, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party is headed towards an explosive leadership challenge in November, when the party is expected to convene for its annual general conference. It is all but confirmed that the Opposition Spokesman on Finance, and the self-styled “Man-A-Yard”, Audley Shaw will challenge the relatively new party leader, Andrew Holness for his job. Considering the divisive and turbulent internal political history of the Labour Party, many people are expecting a bitter and damaging process to unfold. While I am of the view that a challenge is necessary, if only to ‘legitimize’ Holness who was anointed, rather than elected, leader; I am uncomfortable with the utterances which imply that Holness is a poor leader, and therefore must be deposed by a challenge.
In the last three months, Jamaica’s political landscape has undergone a dramatic overhaul; engineered and led largely by the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). From the resignation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding to the ascension of a 39 year old to the top job; the message is clear, Jamaica’s politics is changing.
However, one cannot help but wonder if all this is simply flash and no substance. What I mean is, does all of this amount to a brilliantly crafted strategy by the JLP to retain state power amid unprecedented economic challenges? Former Prime Minister Golding said as much at the 68th conference of the JLP. He likened the move to a game of football, he had called the play. What this all amounts to is perception. How is it perceived? The polls give the answer, the JLP is ahead.
It has been 72 hours since Prime Minister Bruce Golding shocked his party with news that he will be stepping aside as party leader, and subsequently Prime Minister, come November. After a failed attempt to convince Mr. Golding to change his mind, the JLP is now gearing it’s machinery towards a leadership race. The JLP chairman, Mike Henry, has indicated that the nomination process to fill the impending vacancy will remain open until late October. The question now is, who will be Jamaica’s 9th Prime Minister when the dust settles?