Respect Due To Potia Simpson-Miller

Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica

PORTIA Simpson Miller earned the political respect, long denied her by various elements of Jamaican society, by leading the People’s National Party (PNP) to a spectacular victory over the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the general election on Thursday, December 29.

She overcame a relentless negative advertising campaign that ‘demonised’ her, mocked her intellectual capacity, managerial competence and unsuitability to be prime minister of Jamaica.

The campaign was all the more telling as many of the words of disapproval came out of the mouths of senior PNP members who had used the same line against her back in 2006 when she contested for the leadership of the party. Now, they stand toe to toe with her.

As she triumphed in the PNP presidential races, so she did again Thursday as a majority of the Jamaican electorate determined that the 66-year-old Simpson Miller should be elevated to the prime minister’s chair, four years after she failed in her first bid to get her own mandate from the electorate after taking over from P J Patterson, who retired in March 2006.

Of course, the triumph does not suggest that she has become an intellectual heavyweight since 2006, although she has matured and learned a lot more about State craft.

The suggestion is that she possesses important leadership qualities that appeal to the Jamaican voter, and that significant numbers are willing to trust her to take and implement decisions that are in the best interest of the country and not the special interest of the privileged and those connected to power. They want to believe that ‘people power’ is not a catchy phrase.

Given her vast experience in politics and life, Mrs Simpson Miller knows that trust cannot be taken lightly; it has to be earned and re-earned by doing right. In the same way that the electorate threw out the JLP administration, they will give her the same treatment if she loses that trust.

According to the preliminary results, Mrs Simpson Miller and the PNP confounded polls and predictions, winning 41 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives compared to 22 for the JLP. Final counts were proceeding at the time of writing Friday and, with small victory margins in several constituencies, the distribution of seats could change before this is all over.

Whatever the final number though, the result meant that the outgoing JLP administration — led by Bruce Golding from 2007 and, since October 23 by Andrew Holness — earned the unenviable distinction of being the first one-term Government since the first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944. It is a record that the JLP leaders would gladly trade, if only they could.

Meanwhile, as the country absorbs the reality of the landslide, several questions arise: What accounts for the unexpectedly wide margin of victory? What messages have been sent by the electorate who made the historic decision? What can we expect from Mrs Simpson Miller as she prepares for her second turn at the helm? How well can she govern a fractious nation enmeshed in the depths of an economic crisis exemplified by high debt and joblessness and a society where many exist on the margins?

Claude Robinson

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