What took place
It’s a first for Jamaica. A woman is to lead the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) and she will automatically become prime minister when the incumbent P.J. Patterson resigns after 14 years in office in April.
Portia Simpson-Miller, 60, was elected on Saturday after a bruising battle which saw four candidates vie for the post. She and Dr. Peter Phillips were the front-runners but she polled 1,775 to Phillips 1, 538 in last Saturday’s PNP leadership election.
Dr. Phiilips seemed very popular but what went against him was that as Minister of National Security there were more than 4, 000 cases of homicide in Jamaica.
Mrs Simpson Miller, currently local government minister, has been a popular figure in Jamaican politics since the 1970s. Speaking after the results were announced, she said: “I accept your mandate… and pledge to honour my commitment to serve you all.”
Political opponents argue Mrs Simpson Miller does not have the skills needed to run the country. But political observers say she has gained strong popular appeal during her decades in politics.
“She is seen as someone who has really risen through the ranks of the party, coming from a very, very poor section of Jamaica… to the top post,” Radio Jamaica’s Kathy Barrett told the BBC. “She’s a woman who’s very determined, a firebrand type of politician who has really hit home when it comes to the majority of people – especially women, the poor and the unemployed.”
The next parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2007.
As Prime Minister-designate, Mrs. Simpson Miller’s tasks are immediate, and are at once, internal, national and regional, wrote a commentator in the Gleaner newspaper.
It was inevitable that the trenchant nature of the campaign for the presidency would have led to divisions within the leadership and the wider membership of the party. Her task of overcoming these, it appears, will be made easier than would have been expected by the gracious nature in which the other contenders have accepted her victory.
The need to unify what could be a fractious party has nothing to do with its ability to successfully remain in power, but everything to do with the Government’s ability to attend to pressing national and regional matters. An incumbent party distracted by internecine preoccupations cannot properly address issues that will demand the new leader’s full attention.
The commentator went on to say that one area of relative darkness in Mrs. Simpson Miller’s plans is what she intends to do about the country’s most pressing problem of crime, and its attendant causes and effects, including unemployment and the economy.
With the leadership of the PNP having been decided, Jamaicans should benefit from a period of vigorous and sensible politics. We hope that the change will reinvigorate the moribund Jamaica Labour Party to become more creative in addressing important issues.
The Jamaica Observer stated that it seems that by electing Mrs Simpson Miller to their party’s top post, the delegates of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) have placed before the people a much more fundamental matter for consideration.
The delegates, the Observer believes, made a huge statement – a historic one in the context of Jamaican party politics – by going against the wishes of the majority of their leaders.
Though polls and anecdotal evidence have shown that Mrs Simpson Miller has been for many years the most popular politician in this country – certainly since the late Mr Michael Manley – she did not enjoy the support of the majority of her Cabinet colleagues or indeed her parliamentary colleagues. That support went to her main rival, Dr Peter Phillips.
In fact, Mr Roger Clarke and Mr Phillip Paulwell were the only two Cabinet members in Mrs Simpson Miller’s team.
This fact was central to the ‘Solid as a Rock’ campaign of Dr Phillips. His campaign leaders repeatedly claimed that to the extent that Dr Phillips had the endorsement of the majority of the party’s leadership, he was in a much better position to unite the party after a fractious internal struggle and ultimately, to lead it into the general elections against Mr Bruce Golding’s Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
By ignoring the wishes of most of their MPs and other leadership figures within the PNP and choosing instead to follow the will of the wider population, the PNP delegates have taken a huge step away from tradition. A paradigm shift, perhaps.
No doubt, the party delegates would have been influenced by the belief that Mrs Simpson Miller’s immense popularity made her the most likely to lead them to victory whenever the next general election happens. They also clearly believe that she has the capacity to make a real difference.
As for Mrs Simpson Miller, she has said that she plans not only to unite the party but to unite the country.
We submit that her popularity – which appears to extend across party lines – provides her with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attempt to do exactly that, certainly in relation to the most important issues affecting this country.
While claiming to recognise the need for a united plan of action against criminals, the political parties, like the government, and like the rest of us, have dithered on this issue for too long.
As of now, the goodwill enjoyed by Mrs Simpson Miller provides the opening for a drastic and positive attitudinal change in the war against criminals. We say to her, and to all others in positions of influence, let’s use this mass appeal that Mrs Simpson Miller now has to help in uniting the populace in the fight against the gangs and the dons.
What’s to come
In politics one never knows what the future holds. But if one is to judge from the comments and views of the masses, then Mrs. Simpson-Miller stands a good chance of uniting the nation.
For too long Jamaica has been wracked by crime and violence. Fear has taken over the land. This is the opportunity for all forces – political and otherwise – to join together to fight a common enemy for the good of the country.
Partisan politics and parochial thinking must give way to the greater good. It is people who matter. Not a political party or what group one belongs to.