Wed | Jul 24, 2019

My Political Journey: Jamaica’s Sixth Prime Minister Pt. 7 | The curtain falls

Published:Wednesday | December 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
PNP President and Prime Minister P.J. Patterson as he announces his successor Portia Simpson Miller at the PNP headquarters on February 25, 2006.
The two contenders for the post of president of the People’s National Party and, by extension, prime minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson and Portia Simpson, leave Jamaica House arm in arm after talks with Prime Minister Michael Manley to canvas support for the March 28, 1992 elections.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson (left) horses around with prime minister-designate and new People’s National Party President Portia Simpson Miller and party Chairman Robert Pickersgill during a ceremonial passing of the baton at the Sunset Jamaica Grande hotel in Ocho Rios, St Ann.

P.J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, was Jamaica's sixth and longest-serving prime minister - 1992 to 2006. His book, My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister, which was published by The University of the West Indies Press, will be launched soon. The Gleaner will be publishing excerpts every day until the launch. This is part seven.

At two o'clock, a telephone call said counting was about to begin. Jamaican music of the 1960s continued to be played to the shoulder-shaking and head-nodding of the 15 or so colleagues and friends who had joined us by then.

I decided to go to Vale Royal to receive the results. Dusk was darkening the day when general secretary Burchell Whiteman came to give me the report. We went aside from the group and discussed the day's activities and the results quietly.

Then it was off to the headquarters of the PNP. Old Hope Road, below Mountain View Avenue, to Seaview and all interconnecting roads were choked with vehicles and people. In the dark of the evening, Portia Simpson Miller's gold-shirted supporters in their skirts or dresses stood out. Hundreds sat on the roadside banks and sidewalks, dejected, as the rumour was that their Mama P had lost. Then there was silence as I spoke. Sister P's 'sisters' looked sad. They sat, crowding the roadsides, hands over their heads and moaning and groaning.

They perked up when I said I had the assurance of the Cabinet and the parliamentary group that they would support the new president. I then announced the results in alphabetical order - which by pure coincidence reflected the votes each had obtained, in ascending order. Blythe - 204; Davies - 283; Phillips - 1,538; Simpson Miller - 1,775!




Immediately after the announcement, I left the crowd so that Portia could celebrate her victory with them. An hour later, I received a message: she was on her way to visit me. She came without an entourage, just two police escorts - one a driver - and two of her constituents. I met her on the steps of Vale Royal. We hugged, rocking from side to side, friends since 1969, when, as a young recruit at the National Arena, she had given me a pamphlet for my vice-presidential candidature with my picture on it, and the words, "We say ... P.J."

"I came to show you my respect," she said.

"Come inside your home-to-be," I invited. We walked into the living room, clasping hands, sat side by side on a couch and sipped champagne toasts as we talked about the campaign and its rigours. Then there were two telephone calls, the first from Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall, and the other from his predecessor, Sir Howard Cooke. Her eyes, which had been tired, lit with joy as they congratulated her. She was energised and ready for the challenges ahead and her own campaign to come.

I had run my leg with honesty of purpose and was now ready to pass the baton.

The period before the handover allowed for a smooth transition within both the party and government. At my final meeting of the National Executive Council, I spoke of the need to repair the damage inflicted by the presidential campaign and the danger of descending into infighting, which would impede our progress and cause electoral defeat.

I exposed the prime minister-designate to those aspects of the office which are confined to the head of the government alone, and to a number of boards over which I presided - the Defence Board, the National Security Council, the Economic Council, the National Commission on Science and Technology and the National Road Safety Council, among others.

We held conversations by teleconference with several presidents in the hemisphere and heads of international institutions, such as the United Nations and its agencies, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, and CARICOM.