PNP supporters await word from Simpson Miller at conference public session
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's charismatic mettle will be put to the test today when she stands in front of supporters, who are clearly at odds in some constituencies, at the public session of the People's National Party (PNP) 77th annual conference.
Today will be the ninth occasion that Simpson Miller will address the public session of the PNP as the party's president and her fifth time to bat as the prime minister.
Apart from the annual conference in 2008, when she was challenged by Dr Peter Phillips in the aftermath of the PNP's loss to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), this may be the toughest conference for Simpson Miller.
The PNP president will be required to wield her magic to quell the storms buffeting the organisation and convince the electorate that all is well in the party which is seeking another term as the government.
There are clear signs that some Comrades remain displeased with Simpson Miller's seeming hands-off leadership style, despite her claim last week that she is "a leader who leads from in front".
Asked what he expects of Simpson Miller, C. George Mortley, an active member of the PNP, said he hopes that she will declare that she will not lead the party into the next general election.
But while Mortley wants to see the back of the 'Comrade Leader', there are other diehard Comrades who are suggesting that Simpson Miller take the stage with substantial announcement on critical national issues, including the economy and national security.
Jason St Shaw is urging the prime minister to address poverty and speak about progress in development.
Lester Gayle said the rallying cry of a party leader is not enough in the current economic environment.
"I am hoping to hear about the growth strategies," he said. "I also want to hear what the Ministry of National Security is doing about crime."
He also wants to know what the party is doing about tax collection at the local and central government levels. "We need payments from businesses to run the parish council, in garbage, street lights and sewage.
According to Gayle, something must be said on the issue of unemployment. "What the party is doing about jobs and innovative ways to create new markets."
Richard Hugh Blackford also hopes that Simpson Miller will say something about job creation.
"The efforts of the Ministry of Industry & Commerce and the Taxpayer Administration Jamaica need to make Jamaica open for business," said Blackford. "This is the single most important issue affecting us at this time."
Large turnout expected
PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill and party General Secretary Paul Burke have echoed expectations of a bumper turnout to the political festival to hear Simpson Miller and her team of officers.
Pickersgill has said that Simpson Miller will use her presentation to focus on achievements and progress of the Government in reforming the Jamaican economy and setting the stage for greater economic development.
"In addition, the party leader will address matters pertaining to the progress made in advancing education and social justice as critical planks in building an egalitarian society," said Pickersgill.
The PNP chairman said Simpson Miller will also touch on efforts being made by the Government to improve the structure of governance, health care delivery, community development and protecting the most vulnerable in society.
But Comrades on the ground have signalled that they are expecting the PNP president to speak of plans and programmes for several party and national issues when she steps to the podium at the National Arena.
"It would be a breath of fresh air if she addressed the disconnect between delegates and MPs," said Junior Thompson, a PNP supporter.
"But I also want to know where do we go from here if we were to give the PNP what they ask for in another term. Do we begin to see some real efforts to see the growth we keep hearing about?"
Kamla Forbes, a PNP supporter, told The Sunday Gleaner that Simpson Miller needs to address the "disunity" in the party.
"I am also hoping that the Comrade Leader addresses the youths in the party who feel that they are undervalued," said Forbes.