Monday, January 2, 2012
Prime Minister Designate Hon Portia Simpson Miller
Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column for Monday 2 January 2012
Hearty congratulations to that seasoned campaigner Portia Simpson Miller, President of the People’s National Party, and her triumphant team who reminded us that the PNP are master organisers.
Commiserations to JLP President Andrew Holness and his hard-working team. Above all, commendations to us, the people, who conducted ourselves peacefully as we discharged our sovereign duty as electors last Thursday.
I was in the supermarket the Saturday before the general election when I could not help overhearing a political discussion. “I going vote them out!” a woman shouted. “Time too hard!” On Wednesday a successful professional told me that “bad as bad”, he had always supported the PNP – he would not have been able to go to UWI if Michael Manley hadn’t lowered the fees. Out of these discussions, an interesting demographic of the PNP supporter emerged. On the one hand, there was this woman, living on the margin of poverty; on the other, a well-heeled party loyalist.
This supporter was confident of a PNP victory. When I mentioned some of the negatives that were being discussed about the PNP, he waved them aside. “Debate?” he asked. “Middle class people don’t have a clue – the ordinary Jamaican is not interested in that. They are interested in getting a job, getting food on the table, and getting their utility bills paid. People are really suffering – they are going to vote out the JLP.”
In a conversation with Jamaican friends visiting from the US, I realised how deeply they felt about the Manatt-Dudus imbroglio and Jamaica’s reputation for homophobia. “I was so embarrassed over this Dudus thing,” one said. “People kept asking me why the Jamaican government was protecting a criminal.” A relative said she had suggested Jamaica as a vacation spot to a friend who replied that, “They hate gays too much. I am not going there.” Even as we respect the beliefs of the church, we have to remember that only the sinless should be casting stones. I have seen too much anguish and loneliness in my gay friends to condemn them – they do not choose to be gay, they simply are.
I think we have many more pressing national issues to address. We have over 500 children missing in the year 2011. We have waves of new graduates expecting employment in a shrinking job market. We have a growing senior population living on pensions that can barely cover a single utility bill. These issues of safety and survival are crying out for immediate attention.
The JLP had several commendable accomplishments, but spent too much of their campaign funds on negative images. One class of Jamaicans probably thought the ‘no piece of paper’ and ‘don’t draw my tongue’ ads were showing up PNP President Portia Simpson Miller. They did not understand the emotional connection between Portia Simpson Miller and the Jamaican people. We are a matriarchal society and Sister/Mama P is that humble relative who makes the family proud. Contrary to the cartoon portrayals, she is attractive and charismatic. The more sophisticated among us would probably opt for a more articulate leader but her people are quite fine with how she speaks and those bouts of temper only make her more human in their eyes.
When G2K copied media an urgent letter protesting a delay by a television station in carrying an anti-Portia ad, I wrote back, “Enough is enough”. As Kevin O’Brien Chang maintained in his election commentary, the JLP had several significant achievements which were overshadowed by their insistent Portia-bashing. We heard little about reduction in crime and not enough explanation about the importance of a stable dollar to the man-in-the-street. JLP president Andrew Holness said in a post-election interview, “This is a time of introspection – we will rebuild.” In response to a question from the press on how the Manatt Dudus may have affected the results, he replied, “It was always in the background.”
There is also speculation about the unusual timing of the general elections. It was colleague columnist Franklin Johnston who first expressed his dismay at elections being run in Christmas week, ascribing the act to the lack of enthusiasm felt by Mr Holness’ denomination for this significant religious event. An ardent JLP supporter said he felt it was insensitive – “Imagine, I couldn’t turn on my radio on Christmas Day without hearing a political ad!”
In the meanwhile, the master strategist former Prime Minister and PNP president PJ Patterson had been assisting in organizing the party, bringing in well-seasoned heavyweights. Malcolm Gladwell, that gifted writer with Jamaican roots, said that to excel at anything, you need to do it 10,000 times. That is why our most memorable mentors are the seniors in our lives. That is why one should never underestimate the political clout of that grassroots veteran Portia Simpson Miller.
As we perform those tasks, 10,000 times over, we become masters. It happens with a student practising math or a concert pianist practising Bach. And so, as Portia Simpson Miller ascended the stage at PNP headquarters last Thursday evening, flashing her famous smile, and hugging her candidates one after the other, we saw a woman practiced in the way of politics, hitting all the right notes and ensuring that there was “no piece of paper” in her hand.
She started with a well known Bible verse. Then the DJ played Tony Rebel’s song, “Mind what you say to yu sister – she could be the next Prime Minister,” an in-your-face reply to the G2K ads. She thanked among many, “Comrade PJ Patterson”, her helper Marva and Andrew Holness who had called to congratulate her, saying that “he was very gracious”. She referred to the welcome sight we saw more of in this than any other previous election, “PNP supporters in orange and JLP supporters in their green hugging in friendly rivalry.”
On a sad note, Mrs Simpson Miller spoke of her good friend and faithful campaigner, the late Howard Aris as “one sweet spirit that is smiling right now – my friend and brother ‘Fudge’ Aris that left us on the campaign trail.” Significantly, she observed, “Today was a rough day for members of the media … and I want to thank them.”
The Prime Minister-designate appealed: “Work with us as we will be working with you. [There will be] consultation and dialogue … we will hide nothing from you. …to all business persons, you have a government that you can trust.”
Let us hold our leaders to their promises by taking active part in our nation’s business. Onwards into 2012 with faith, focus and diligence! Happy New Year!