Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
IN HIS very first public address, minutes after formally receiving his mandate, Robert Montague appeared to be in fine fettle yesterday as he fired a verbal fusillade at the Portia Simpson Miller administration.
Montague, an opposition senator, had just dispatched three notable political veterans in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to emerge as its chairman.
"We will not wait until this Government fails because they are doing an excellent job of that. We will simply get our house in order," he told journalists during a press conference following his election at a meeting of the JLP's Central Executive.
"The standard we have set is an indication to the country that we are serious about governance," he asserted. "We believe that we should be open, transparent and involve all (Jamaicans) in the process."
Montague warned members that the party would be subject to the full scrutiny of all interested citizens.
"As we go forward and chart a new course for the party, we have to take responsibility with our leader to put together a team in the field that will support him and take his vision to every nook and cranny of Jamaica," he stressed.
The huge crowds milling about in an obviously festive mood at the JLP's Belmont Road, New Kingston, headquarters, testified to the extraordinary nature of an election for chairman involving four high-profile members of the party - three sitting members of parliament and a senator.
After a lengthy wait for the result, news emerged that Montague, who had been acting in the position for a year, had pulled off a memorable victory, amassing 68 votes to Edmund Bartlett's 41, Derrick Smith's 30 and Delroy Chuck's five.
Montague's deputy is former General Secretary Aundré Franklin, who amassed 88 votes to defeat Senator Arthur Williams (55).
Dr Horace Chang replaces Franklin as the JLP general secretary with a hard-fought win over Joan Gordon-Webley. Chang secured 86 votes to Gordon-Webley's 58.
Chang's four deputies are Dr Andrew Wheatley, Audley Gordon, Dr St Aubyn Bartlett and Homer Davis.
Karl Samuda was elected unopposed as treasurer and Michael Stern, his deputy.
The five trustees of the JLP, who complete the executive, are Enid Bennett, Dorothy Carter Bradford, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange and Oswald Harding.
In his first public comments as general secretary, Chang said the focus was now to have the JLP at the forefront of advocacy on the country's behalf.
In a reiteration of JLP Leader Andrew Holness' assertion that its election campaign is set to start in earnest, Chang said the party would be engaging the population with the kinds of policies that the JLP intends to pursue.
"This is not only to ensure that the JLP is successful as a political party but successful as a government in taking on the challenges that this country faces right now, Chang declared.
"Indeed, those challenges are many, varied and difficult. We think we have a team that is equal to the task, have the experience as well as the energy and the talent to take them on effectively."
For his part, Holness stressed that yesterday's event marked the closure of one phase and the beginning of another.
"We have placed a team to the country and the team is ready to work," he declared.
"It shows a healthy party when so many persons would have decided to contest and after the contest is over, we are still one united team and everyone will be out there in the field working to rebuild the party and ensure that Jamaica's interest is protected," he added.
George Soutar, one of three commissioners who administered the elections, hinted that the team moved painstakingly to ensure that none of the controversies involved in the elections for deputy leaders of the JLP re-emerged.
"We laid down certain ground rules in relation to the conduct of the candidates and the actual election-day procedure and those rules were circulated to all the candidates," Soutar said. "We endeavoured to, as far as possible, pattern the standards set by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) and I do believe that we succeeded in that."
He said these included proper boxes and ballots that were prepared by the EOJ.
"The process went smoothly. I think we can take credit as commissioners that this election was transparent in all respect and it was fair and I believe the results were accepted by everyone," Soutar added.