Comrades clash - All eyes on National Arena as PNP vote for president and four VPs
For the first time in eight years, delegates of the People's National Party (PNP) will go to the polls to decide who should serve as president and vice-presidents of the 78-year-old party.
While the contest for the post of president has received the top billing today, an even more interesting race is on the undercard, where five senior Comrades will face off for the party's four vice-president posts.
As it was in 2008, Portia Simpson Miller enters an internal election as the incumbent facing a challenge from one of the men she served with in the trenches for years, Dr Karl Blythe.
In that contest, Simpson Miller polled 2,332 votes to Dr Peter Phillips' 1,959 in an election in which 4,291 of the 4,438 delegates of the party voted.
The result left Simpson Miller with 54.8 per cent of the votes and a victory margin of 373 votes.
This time around, it will be just about 3,400 delegates registered to vote in the poll to be conducted by the Electoral Office of Jamaica, but supporters of Simpson Miller are expressing confidence that she will emerge with an even larger margin of victory.
Leaders of the PNP's six regions have already pledged their support for Simpson Miller, with the parliamentary group and members of the Caucus of PNP councillors also reportedly lining up behind her.
"As president of the PNP, Mrs Simpson Miller has presided over various reforms of the constitution of the party, giving greater autonomy to the different regions of the movement and giving more powers to the groups within the organisation," argued Floyd Morris, who is solidly behind the sitting president.
"The PNP has had a rich tradition of allowing its leaders to exit the political stage gracefully. We have never forced any of our leaders to retire in ways that make them feel as if their services were not appreciated.
"Mrs Simpson Miller has said that she wants to lead us into the local government elections and that she will be celebrating her 40th year in representational politics in December. She has never displayed any despotic tendencies in the PNP that will cause me to believe that she will hang on to power and cause irreparable harm to the movement," added Morris.
In arguing her case for another year at the helm, Simpson Miller has responded to those clamouring for change and renewal with her claim that major reforms were done to the party's constitution under her leadership.
With the critics also pointing to her unflattering record of losing the two general elections, which she has called, Simpson Miller has declared that after her victory today, she will embark on implementing the recommendations of the Appraisal Committee that examined the reasons for the party's defeat in the February general election.
For his part, Blythe has accepted that he faces a hard task to unseat a sitting president, which has never been done before in either of the island's two major political parties.
"The fact is that it is difficult to unseat the leader of a party, and certainly that of the PNP, when it is the delegates who are voting because there is a lot of sentiment. But I am hoping that the delegates will recognise that what I am fighting for now is the party, the way forward for the party, and the fact that renewal is needed - free from fear, intimidation, or any form of abuse," Blythe told The Gleaner recently.
On the undercard, Lisa Hanna and Dr Wykeham McNeill will join three incumbent vice-presidents - Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dr Angela Brown Burke, and Noel Arscott - in a race for four posts.
With Comrades bitterly divided over which four should be given the nod, all five have been criss-crossing the island for weeks, hoping to pull sufficient votes for a seat at the table.
Voting begins at 10 a.m. at the National Arena, with final results expected by 7 p.m.