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Power of the PM - Portia’s second chance at naming the date

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2016 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
Edward Seaga named the general election date in 1983 and 1989.
P.J. Patterson named the election date in 1993, 1997, and 2002.
Andrew Holness named the election date in 2011.

It is impatient of debate that Jamaican prime ministers wield enormous powers.

Apart from influence enjoyed over the all-powerful executive arm of the Government - the Cabinet - prime ministers, in the absence of a fixed election date provision in the Constitution, are the ones who determine when Jamaicans go to the polls to elect a government.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is a classic example of the potency of the position, and she gets a second chance to "sound the trumpet" or "fly the gate".

And, as it has been on numerous occasions since 1944, Jamaicans are sitting on the edges of their seats waiting on the prime minister to name the date of the general election.

When former Prime Minister Michael Manley "counted 150,000 strong" in 1980, it was not enough to secure victory for the People's National Party (PNP) that he led.

Trumpeting "democratic socialism" with great fanfare, the Manley-led PNP was swamped 51 to nine by the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which had run on a "deliverance is near" campaign.

P.J. Patterson opted not to "count" his crowd, and his announcement may not have been as memorable as Manley's a year after he took over the mantle of the PNP in 1993.

That was not to be the only major difference as the electoral results in favour of the PNP that he led were much more telling.

Not only were the tables dramatically turned in 1993, but the record of 51 to nine in favour of the JLP 14 years earlier was wiped out clean when Patterson secured 52 of the 60 seats to the JLP's eight.

Then there was Seaga's characterisation of then PNP rising star Dr Paul Robertson, who had called for his resignation.

Seaga described Robertson as a "political midget" and a "moral dwarf" in the politically charged era of 1983.

The PNP did not respond to Seaga's biting political rhetoric that spoke eloquently of another time at the same place.




In what has been dubbed the "Snap Election", Manley kept the PNP out of the 1983 contest that handed all 60 seats in the House of Representatives to the JLP until 1989.

Not unlike Portia Simpson Miller the first time around in 2007, then newly installed JLP leader Andrew Holness, in 2011, hesitated to "fly the gate" and faltered at the finish line despite repeated shouts from his supporters to "call it Andrew, call it".

But Jamaica's youngest prime minister delayed the call until weeks later and when he finally did, a revived Simpson Miller flew past the JLP to secure a first electoral victory for herself as president of the PNP.

Fast-forward four years in time. It is now Holness' turn to wait on Simpson Miller "to call it" even as his team hits the road with a "poverty to prosperity" claim.

When she addresses her Comrades and the nation in Half-Way Tree this evening, political watchers will check if she dons the charismatic clothing of her mentor, Manley, the more measured delivery of Patterson, or her friend from the other side of the political divide, Seaga, with his numerous quotable quips.