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Fighting fit - Portia plans to stay!

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Portia Simpson Miller shows how physically fit she is, while PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill looks on.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller

People's National Party (PNP) president Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has made it clear that she is not in the political departure lounge and is in no hurry to leave the helm of the 78-year-old party that she has led for a shade under 10 years.

Simpson Miller has also scoffed at those who have claimed that she is a weak leader and not in control of the party she was first elected to lead on February 25, 2006.

"Weak leader? If you have a political movement, from time to time you are going to have squabbles and disappointment. But we have to manage the disagreement, and we have. What kind of democracy would we be if we did not allow for the freedom of expression," Simpson Miller told The Sunday Gleaner in an exclusive interview last week.

"Where is it that I can't manage the party? If I call now and say I want a meeting this evening at party headquarters, the meeting is going to be held. A leader who cannot manage and cannot give instructions cannot lead from in front.

"For all the critics who say I am weak, put me in an open-top bus where I drive on the road. And those who are criticising, put them beside me and see who the people shout for," added Simpson Miller, as she dismissed claims that the infighting in some constituencies to represent the party in the next general election reflected that she was not in control.

The PNP president, who is expected to today officially launch her quest for another term as prime minister, is adamant that she remains in charge of the party and has no plans to leave until she is satisfied it will be in good hands.

"No, I don't know. I can't tell you that," said Simpson Miller in response to a question about when she will walk away from the political arena.

"I am carrying out my responsibilities and it is one day at a time. If you can show me someone in the PNP right now who will be able to pull the people when they go out there on a campaign trail, then I could say yes.

"But if you can't show me that person, then I can't tell you goodbye," she stated with the political steel of a lion leading the pride.

In an obvious message to those jostling to replace her, Simpson Miller left no doubt that there will be no vacancy in the foreseeable future for a new party president.

"I have a responsibility to my country and my people. I don't intend to be in politics forever, but I am going to give of my time and my service to my party as long as I feel it is necessary, and my right time, when I decide, I decide."

In the PNP's recent history, then president Michael Manley led the party back to state power in 1989 and retired three years later because of illness.

He was replaced by P.J. Patterson, who led the PNP and the government from 1992 to 2006, resigning as party president and prime minister with one year left in his electoral term.

With the general election expected to be held this year, the next one would be constitutionally due in 2021, and if she remains as physically capable as she is now, it could be Simpson Miller who leads the Comrades into that political battle.

The 70-year-old Simpson Miller said not even her husband, Errald, will succeed in giving her a departure ultimatum.

According to the prime minister, Errald Miller has been very supportive and would never interfere with her politics.

"Ever since I have been in politics, nobody has been able to force me to make a decision. Ask Bobby (Pickersgill). If you think you are bad, tell me that.

"My husband has been very supportive. I am all over the island, and sometimes I go in tired and the next morning I have to be gone again, and all he would say is, 'Lord, you need to get some rest.' He is not getting in the way of my political work. He gives me all the run. Doesn't matter when I come in and when I have to leave shortly after, it doesn't matter."