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Simpson Miller urges Comrades to end internal disputes and brace for snap elections

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall

Outgoing president of the People's National Party (PNP) Portia Simpson Miller has warned Comrades of the possibility of a snap general election as the Holness administration, with its slim parliamentary majority, might attempt to take gain a broader mandate in the face of deeper austerity on the horizon.

"There are some tough times coming," Simpson Miller reportedly told the PNP's National Executive Council (NEC) on Sunday as part of a presentation in which she formally announced her decision to step down as the party's president by next September.

The conditions, she said, would tempt the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) "to look for the best opportunity to get a real mandate from the people".

"Let us not be caught sleeping," Simpson Miller added, as she urged her party to heal its divisions and to "prepare for any eventuality".

The JLP unseated the PNP government in February's general election, but has only a one-seat majority in the 63-member, directly elected House of Representatives.

However, some senior people in the governing party believe that Prime Minister Andrew Holness should seek to exploit splits in the PNP that erupted in the aftermath of its general election defeat; the JLP's victory, although not overwhelming, in municipal elections just over one week ago; as well as distractions that are likely to come in the campaign for Simpson Miller's successor.

Among those who at least harbour the idea of an early national vote is Daryl Vaz, a Cabinet member and former Holness critic, who now praises his boss' leadership skills, but more important, has the reputation of an astute political and campaign strategist.

"It (an early election) would have to be something that is on the mind of a prime minister and Cabinet ministers, and it is being talked about," Vaz told this week's Sunday Gleaner. "I am not saying one way or the other, but it is occupying the minds of both PNP and JLP officials."

Among the issues that Simpson Miller believes are likely to influence the JLP to an early election is its need to raise an estimated J$16 billion in new taxes to pay the second tranche of the Government's J$1.5 million "so-called tax relief", as well as the possibility of public-sector job cuts to reduce the wage bill in keeping with Jamaica's agreement with the Inter-national Monetary Fund.

Simpson Miller, in her speech to the closed-door meeting, the text of which was obtained by The Gleaner, made it clear that the PNP's most pressing job is the rebuilding of "this noble movement".

She also had a charge for incoming general secretary, Julian Robinson: "His immediate task is to reorganise the party and prepare us for any eventuality."

But the matter of placing the PNP in operational readiness apart, Robinson's more complicated task will probably be stitching together working relationships in constituencies such as in South East St Ann, where MP Lisa Hanna and senior party activists, including councillors, have been at loggerheads for months.

Simpson Miller addressed these issues on Sunday, saying that "the internal fighting is hurting the party", and telling the protagonists to use party mechanisms to settle disputes.

"If you want to move your councillor as the party's standard-bearer, go organise yourself and win the selection of the person you want," she said. "If you want to remove your MP as the party's standard-bearer, go organise and win the selection when selection time comes."

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com