Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson-Miller.
Associated Press / Evan Agostini

The first woman to head a major political party and become prime minister of Jamaica is preparing for a major leadership challenge after steering the organization to a narrow but painful defeat in general elections held recently.

Portia Simpson-Miller, 70, is still widely considered as the single most popular politician in Jamaica and one who will be hard to beat in any straight race for leadership of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) but senior party leaders think the time is ripe for her to hand over to a new president who will take the party into the 2021 general elections or any held earlier.

Some think that Simpson-Miller has now become a political liability and a politician without a strong future after the narrow PNP loss to the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) by a single seat, 32-31.

The parliamentary configuration means that the assembly is effectively and functionally operating with a deadlock as Pearnel Charles of the JLP moved from the government benches into the speaker’s chair in early March, further complicating the situation.

Uncomfortable with the parliamentary set up, insiders say the JLP is hoping to go back to the polls sometime in the next year on the presumption that it could win a few more seats than the 32 seats which makes it hard to pass legislation.

PNP seniors say that the party must therefore get its house in order before it is caught off guard by fresh polls and a JLP that it desperate to wrestle itself away from the 32-31 arrangement handed to them by voters in elections held in late February.

The one-seat majority in Jamaica now means that three Caribbean trade bloc countries are functioning with similar set ups, the others being Guyana and St. Vincent.

For her part, Simpson-Miller is not necessarily unaccustomed to bruising internal party battles.

She had wrested the leadership of the PNP back in 2008, surviving a feisty fight, ironically from Peter Phillips.

In 1992 she made her own party leadership bid, losing to PNP elder and Caribbean statesman Percival Patterson who would go on to run the country for 14 years.

Now the chatter is rising within the PNP ranks about the time being ripe for her to step down and hand over to a new generation of leaders who would reorganize in time for 2021. She is also being blamed for being the first PNP leader not to win a second consecutive term.

Newspaper Columnist Grace Virtue said in a recent piece that whether she had won or not her time had passed.

“Her career is over. The only question is how and when she will go. The elections would mark the end of Portia Simpson Miller’s parliamentary career and leadership of the PNP,” she said.

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