Gary Spaulding & Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writers
STATING THAT he was not new to challenge, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Andrew Holness, said he had no fear that he would prevail if his leadership were challenged.
"I am not afraid of any challenge. This is just a stepping stone to build the party. I came into politics as a calling. I was called to serve you," Holness stated, adding that he had the right criteria that Jamaicans needed to lead the country.
Speaking to party supporters last night in a public forum in South Central St Catherine, Holness was addressing Deputy Leader of the JLP Audley Shaw's announcement last week that he was considering vying for party leadership.
Holness cautioned party supporters to be careful of "sweet mouth" and empty promises from those seeking to lead them.
With the backing of some of JLP's top hierarchy, party lines were drawn as some stalwarts of the party put their full support behind Holness and issued strong words to Shaw.
Pearnel Charles, Everald Warmington, Babsy Grange, Shahine Robinson, Sharon Hay-Webster and Andrew Wheatley were among those who did not mince words about the pending leadership challenge.
Expressing that he was the best finance minister, they invited Shaw to "come to his senses" and rejoin the team with Holness as leader so that they could successfully challenge the People's National Party (PNP) in the next general election.
"Any Labourite who at this time wants to disrupt the march of the JLP, is an agent of the PNP," said Charles.
He said if Shaw had a problem, he should air his grouses at the Standing Committee, instead of seeking to divide the party.
Warmington said unless Shaw came with a better plan than Holness, he would not give him his support. He noted that the party needed a leader who could win and hold seats.
"We don't want a change of leadership. We want a change of government," Robinson stated.
Meanwhile, declaring that he had arrived at a crossroads in his political life, Shaw emotionally promised a pulsating meeting of the JLP Area Council Three yesterday, that he would inform the nation within the next three weeks, whether he will take the challenge to Holness.
Minutes later, however, Shaw served the clearest of signals amid cheers from some supporters and hoots of disapproval from others, that a challenge for the party's top position was imminent.
It was the first time that Shaw was speaking publicly about his intention to challenge Holness for the post of leader of the JLP.
He served notice that he would definitely not be returning as deputy leader at November's annual conference.
Shaw, the deputy leader for the area council for the last 14 years, told supporters that he reminded Holness of his own expressed position on the virtues of democracy of the JLP, and served notice that he was taking the JLP leader at his word.
"I will carry out consultations with dignity and respect for all, and I will not say a negative word about my party leader, my party or any other member," said Shaw. "If I declare my candidacy, I expect that the same principle will hold true."
Added Shaw: "I am at a crossroads in my political life after 26 years in the JLP … I come to this position with no malice in my heart. But we must not be afraid to build and nurture a culture of democracy in the JLP to give the delegates a say in who leads them and the vision that guides the JLP".
Pre-meeting tensions were averted by alert councillors as members who supported a leadership challenge were engaged in fierce verbal exchanges with those who did not.
Even as supporters chanted "Leader!" and "Man a yard!" to the countering chants of "We nuh want no challenge", Shaw lashed out against claims that he was involved in a plot to oust Holness.