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Bitter leadership fight for Jamaica’s main opposition party

Bert Wilkinson | 9/19/2013, 12:24 p.m.
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For 21 of the past 25 years, the People’s National Party (PNP) has governed the world famous Caribbean island of Jamaica winning majority support of the voting population while its main rival battles with serious internal squabbling.

Fresh general elections aren’t due for another three years but even as the governing PNP tries to stabilize the island’s economy, reduce gun crimes and boost tourist arrivals, the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) has once again found itself in the throes of a leadership struggle that could very well confine it to another five more years on the opposition backbenches.

Incumbent JLP Leader Andrew Holness who surprisingly called general elections towards the end of 2011 and lost with many months left to govern, now finds himself on the other side of a fight for leadership of the JLP from veteran party stalwart and former finance minister Audley Shaw.

Shaw like many in the JLP rank and file and even the senior leadership say they have serious doubts that Holness who is 41doesn’t have what it takes to lead the JLP and beat the PNP in any election race in the near future.

So he has publicly thrown his hat in the ring and has announced that he wants to get the rid of Holness as the JLP leader, rebuild the party, make it credible and marketable again as well as prepare it to take on the powerful PNP of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the island’s perennial and ever popular head of government.

The party is expected to name a date for a special conference that will allow for the leadership race as early as this week. Holness, a former education minister before he was catapulted to the helm of the JLP in 2011 says he is ready for the fight as it is better to get the row behind the party sooner rather than later.

"Let us once and for all use this exercise to settle the petty differences that have divided the party. Let us use this exercise as a means of healing the party. Let us once and for all settle this argument of who should lead the JLP. Let us once and for all allow the leader of the Jamaica Labor Party to put in place the plans and program that can build the party without having the party pulling one side so, and another side of the party pulling so,” Holness told a weekend delegates conference.

For his part, Shaw says there is a dire need to “recapture the fervor of the founding years of our nationhood, where every Jamaican believed that they had a stake in the development of this nation. “JLP now needs strong, visionary and decisive leadership, a leadership that will rekindle hope in our party and our country. I have heard the calls. I have listened to your appeals. I have consulted with and received the blessing and support of my family. I have prayed to God for guidance. I have now come to the decision that I will allow my name to be entered into nomination for the post of Leader of this great 70 year -old movement, the JLP that was formed by the Right Excellent Sir William Alexander Bustamante,” Shaw said.

Party stalwarts say the moneyed class seems to be supporting Shaw while JLP traditionalists appear to be going the way of Holness in what is shaping up to be a very tight race.