The swearing-in yesterday of Portia Simpson-Miller as Jamaica’s new prime minister was expected to usher in a new era of politics on the Caribbean island.
The first woman to head the government of Jamaica, Simpson-Miller led the PNP to a resounding 42-21 landslide victory in the general elections over the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). Elections were called one year ahead of the constitutional deadline.
In her victory speech Thursday, Dec. 29, Simpson-Miller urged nationals to put aside their political differences and join her People’s National Party (PNP) in a building a new Jamaica.
“We are going to unite and move Jamaica as it has never seen before,” she said.
Simpson-Miller said her administration would be working with Jamaicans in the Diaspora to “move Jamaica forward.
Simpson-Miller, affectionately referred to as “Sista P” and “Comrade Leader,” faces deep problems as she takes over the government, with debt running at about 130 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unemployment at more than 12 per cent.
She said her administration will be seeking to renegotiate the multi-billion dollar Standby Agreement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We have plenty of work ahead of us,” Simpson-Miller said. “You will hear from us soon as we move to put our team in place,” urging nationals “to work with us as we move this country forward together.
“We will tell you as it is, we will hide nothing from you,” the new prime minister added. “When it is tough and rough we will let you know, when it is easy we will let you know.
“This leader with her team will be working with all Jamaicans as one Jamaican family as we shape the future of Jamaica together,” she told supporters celebrating the party’s return to power after it was defeated in the 2007 general election.
Simpson-Miller 66, thanked “everybody who played a role in ensuring the PNP’s victory. This was the second time that she was sworn in as prime minister.
In 2006, she became Jamaica’s only female prime minister after the retirement from active politics of then Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
“I am humbled by the support of the Jamaican people and I ask you to ensure that you greet Jamaica labor Party supporters with love,” she said.
“I want to thank all the voters of Jamaica,” she added, stating that they had “kept our democracy alive and well today”.
Simpson-Miller has been a PNP stalwart since she was first elected to Parliament in 1976, becoming a Cabinet member in 1989.
Born in rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto, not far from the crumbling “concrete jungle,” popularized by the legendary Bob Marley, Simpson-Miller as long been admired by supporters.
Her party, which experimented with democratic socialism in the 1970s, is still perceived as more focused on social programs than the slightly more conservative JLP.
PNP campaign director, Dr Peter Phillips, a former national security minister, said plans were well advanced for the transfer of power to the new administration.
Minister Bruce Golding’s handling of an extradition request, by the U.S. for drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, played a major role in his party’s defeat.
In a victory speech interspersed with music, Simpson-Miller said that she had already received congratulatory messages from outgoing Prime Minister Andrew Holness and some leaders within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping.
Holness, 39, the youngest ever head of government here, now has the dubious record of being the only prime minister to serve one term in office since the island attained political independence from Great Britain in 1962.