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Portia on 'trial' - Political analysts say election results will point opposition leader to the door

Published:Monday | November 28, 2016 | 12:01 AMJovan Johnson
Simpson Miller

Today's local government elections are not just about electing municipal councillors across Jamaica, but also serves as a 'referendum' on Portia Simpson Miller's leadership of the People's National Party (PNP), according to political commentators.

Kevin O'Brien Chang and Troy Caine, also a political historian, believe that Simpson Miller has more to lose than the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) if her party does not end this evening with control of most of the 13 municipal corporations.

"A defeat for the JLP would have less effect on the party than it would on the PNP considering that they have just gone into power," Caine said. "The way the pointers are now is that they seem to be the party in the ascendancy not so much because the party has settled down, but the fact is that the last election in February, the party, had it been parish council elections, would have won a very, very handsome victory.

"I don't know what it will take to uproot Mrs Simpson Miller. She does not seem to be affected by the worst of things that has happened to either her or the party," he added.

Caine also said that he was not certain that the party had healed from the infighting that plagued it in the lead-up to the general election this year, pointing to the heckling and Simpson Miller's outburst at a St Ann party meeting earlier this month

That view resonates with O'Brien Chang, who said Simpson Miller would be on 'trial' today, facing a jury of a number greater than the 2,669 who participated in the presidential contest in September in which she solidified her grip on the party.

O'Brien Chang said it is not far-fetched to believe that internal figures in the party may wish that the party loses the elections to hasten her departure.

"Politics is a vicious game. If you want to get to the top, even in their own party, they would want to snap the other person to get to the top.

"It would be a bit of shock to them (JLP) if they lost," he said. "For the PNP, there are bigger implications. A big loss would damage Mrs Simpson Miller because a lot of people are already saying she's 70, she should go. And if she loses the elections badly, people will say, 'Well, you've lost four of the six elections you've run'."

He added: "If PNP wins, Portia is going to say, 'Ahh! I tell you guys, people still love me.' Even if the JLP loses, Andrew Holness is not going anywhere. His leadership is not in question. It is Portia Simpson Miller who is under the gun more."

Paul Burke, the outgoing general secretary of the PNP, said today's election could act in some way as a referendum on Simpson Miller's 10-year-old leadership.

"Local government elections are mainly about your strong supporters who pay attention to that election. General middle-income, upper-income level people don't come out and vote. I think she has a clear timetable in her mind, win or lose."

In the aftermath of the polls-defying general election loss in February, Lisa Hanna emerged as one of the PNP voices calling for 'renewal'. Then, Peter Bunting gave an indication that he could challenge but backed off as forces of strength gathered around Simpson Miller.

Dr Karl Blythe, who eventually made it a contest, lost badly in the polls but celebrated what, he said, was a message sent to Simpson Miller that her time had come to leave.