Fri | May 26, 2017

Tension high in JLP

Published:Saturday | August 8, 2015 | 8:00 AMGary Spaulding
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness waves to journalists on his arrival at the Jamaica Labour Party headquarters at Belmont Road yesterday.

A SIX-HOUR-long caucus of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) parliamentary grouping emerged without a resolution yesterday even as tension in the party about the leadership of Andrew Holness intensified.

The meeting was called to address issues of concerns in relation to the leadership of the party and the future of the JLP. This development comes nearly two years after delegates of the party voted overwhelmingly for Holness to continue at the helm.

Holness trounced Audley Shaw, polling 2,704 votes to the 2,012 received by Shaw. But with a general election due by December 2016 and factions aligned to Shaw disaffected with Holness' leadership of the party, 20 of the party's 21 members of parliament (MP) gathered at their Belmont Road headquarters to discuss the way forward.

Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Derrick Smith, who chaired the meeting, described the talks as spirited. Asked whether the future of Holness' leadership was discussed, Smith said: "Not that I know of. I did not get that impression."

He told journalists that the group is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday.

Desmond McKenzie, MP for Western Kingston and deputy leader of the party, said: "It was an excellent meeting."

Central Clarendon MP Mike Henry said: "We are getting there. We are continuing to meet next week." North West St Elizabeth MP J.C. Hutchinson declared that "all is well".

Insiders told The Gleaner that Holness strenuously repelled suggestions that he quit as leader of the opposition.

One member reportedly pleaded to Holness to relent instead of forcing the parliamentary group to resort to the constitutional route that could involve a vote and the intervention of the governor general to oust him.

Under the Constitution of Jamaica, the person who commands the respect of the majority of members on the opposition benches is named opposition leader. Holness, at the time of the November 2013 delegates' election, had the support of 13 of the 21 opposition MPs. That number is thought to have dwindled.

Holness' supporters

Police squads monitored a group of Holness' supporters even as they vociferously rejected suggestions that their presence at Belmont Road had been orchestrated.

"Anything happen to him (Andrew), we have to be here," said Rose. "We can't abandon him."

A bus load of party activists from West Central St Andrew, the constituency represented by Holness, arrived just before midday as the MPs settled in for their caucus.

Immediately, the protest began: "We are here to defend Andrew," declared Oliver Doyle, a resident of Tower Hill.

"The bigger man dem want to take him down," complained Vivienne Kirkpatrick, another self-styled party activist.

Said another member of Holness' support crew: "The infighting is making the People's National Party look good."