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Op-Ed: A New Jamaica Labour Party?

By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

BY THE CLOSE of day Sunday, the Jamaica Labour Party will have chosen its next leader — incumbent and former Prime Minister Andrew Holness or challenger and former Finance Minister Audley Shaw.

Holness represents the youth of the JLP, which first developed out of the personality of Jamaican hero Alexander Bustamante, the country’s first Prime Minister.

By all accounts, he is considered as a man with a strong political future, unassociated with much of the problems that have plagued Jamaican politics: garrison politics and violent elements of society.

Shaw is the institutional candidate, a bold longtime MP who announced his challenge to Holness’ leadership in mid-September.

It has thus far been a heated race, with all of the usual charges leveled, and some new ones (including allegations of plagiarism of Holness’ “Five E” plan, which covers the environment, energy, economy, education and either empowerment or efficiency, depending on whom you ask. (Note: whoever used its first almost certainly borrowed it from Haiti President Michel Martelly, who has made a similar “Five E” plan a major prong of his administration).

But the most pressing issue for the JLP is not who will lead the party and who will win this impassioned race, but what the party will stand for.

Is it the party of Seaga? Is it the party of Bustamante? Is it the party of Golding? Is it something else entirely? Is it, perhaps, time for a New Labour, in the vein of Tony Blair?

What will be the role of the new JLP starting Monday — and what kind of opposition will it stand for, with an election still three years away?

And in a society where colorism continues to be a major, if largely ignored problem, will the new JLP help transcend longstanding tensions between different strata of Jamaican society?

Of course, another possibility remains — that the party could see itself splintered between support for both men.

Could a new party emerge to challenge the two-party system in Jamaica?

The history of third parties in the Caribbean is not impressive — most recently, a once-promising Democratic National Alliance in the Bahamas failed to win any seats in that country’s 2012 vote.

But in Jamaica, anything can happen.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.


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