Jamaica’s ninth prime minister was sworn in on Sunday by Gov. General Sir Patrick Allen, promising to work diligently to improve the island-nation.
Andrew Michael Holness, 39, took the oath of allegiance to his country before about 4,000 people gathered on the lawn of King’s House in Kingston, the Jamaican capital.
He becomes the youngest prime minister ever in Jamaica and the first leader to be born after the island gained independence in 1962.
Holness was elevated to the position of prime minister following endorsements from former Prime Minister Bruce Golding and government Members of Parliament.
Golding, 63, shocked the nation and the Caribbean last month by announcing that he would not be serving out his full five-year-term. He formally tendered his resignation to Sir Patrick on Sunday.
Observers say Golding’s move appeared intended to salvage the incumbent Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) chances in the next general election, which is constitutionally due by December next year.
Golding had suffered poor public backing over his handling of the 2009 United States extradition request for Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
The prime minister had authorized an American law firm to lobby Washington to drop the request, provoking public outrage.
Coke has pleaded guilty to drugs and arms trafficking, and is awaiting sentencing in a Manhattan jail.
Holness said shortly after swearing in that he will endeavor to dismantle garrisons, and tackle corruption, crime and injustice.
“It is time to end garrison politics,” he said. “This will not happen overnight, and it should not happen by force.
“Both political parties have it in them to mutually agree to end the social construct of the garrison,” he added.
“It’s not only that the rest of Jamaica is shut out from these communities, I’m concerned that the residents of these communities are locked off from the rest of Jamaica. The time has come to transcend the pettiness that has distracted us,” he continued.
In pointing to education as a way out of poverty, the former education minister urged all Jamaicans to make the sacrifice and invest in their children’s education.
“My parents invested in education,” he said. “Education is the greatest investment in breaking inter-generational poverty. I’m here today because of education.”
He also paid tribute to Golding, outlining some of the achievements made by the governing party to date, noting that the government was making progress in fighting corruption, modernizing the police force and in fighting crime.
The new prime minister said anti-gang legislation to fight the threat of organized crime would be brought to Parliament very shortly.
Political analysts say Holness also has a major task in handling the country’s troubled stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
In his last address to the nation on Saturday night, Golding said he had asked his successor to continue the reform of governance in the country in keeping with the commitment the JLP made to the electorate during the campaign of the 2007 general election.
Golding said his regret is that “despite the considerable work that has been done, there are still critical reform initiatives yet to be fully implemented.
“I have made one request of Andrew and that is that he does everything possible to complete the reform program, which is a commitment we made to the people of Jamaica during the last elections,” he said, adding that the emergence of a new leader brings with it new hope and great expectations.
“That hope must be used to inspire us to a renewed effort by each of us, every single Jamaican, to do our part in building this nation, in overcoming the many challenges that confront us.
“No government, whether led by me, Andrew or anyone else, can do it alone. Our chances of success lie in our ability to set aside our differences, to find unity despite our diversity and to coalesce behind a common set of objectives and the strategies to achieve them,” Golding continued in his brief address.
“Our competitive political process does not encourage that but it can and must be made to facilitate it. Vested interests must be submerged into the common interest so that we can move forward, in single formation with a single purpose, to make Jamaica a better place for all of us to live. We must march into the future, not let the future take us by surprise,” he added.
Golding said that Holness brings tremendous ability to the job, as demonstrated in his work as education minister.
“He has a clear vision of Jamaica, a vision that stretches beyond the next election, beyond many elections. He deserves the support of all Jamaicans in the formidable tasks on which he is now embarked,” he said.
A graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Holness specialized in Development Economics and was groomed by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
Between 1999 and 2002, Holness served as opposition spokesman for Land and Development. In 2002, he was asked by Seaga to serve as the opposition spokesman for Housing.
In 2005, the West Central St. Andrew Member of Parliament transferred to shadow the education portfolio. He performed this role until 2007, when he was ushered in as education minister following the 2007 general elections.
As education minister, Holness received commendation on his far-reaching policies, such as his tough stance on security and safety in schools, his push to achieve 100 percent literacy at the primary level, and his emphasis on accountability at all levels of the education system.