Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
It's 'do or die' week for Audley Shaw, the likely challenger to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) throne, which has been occupied by Andrew Holness for the past two years.
With Shaw expected to inform JLP Chairman Robert Montague of his immediate plans after winding up 'consultations' with delegates and others, the vocal soundings from some of the younger 'kingmakers' in the party have increased.
For Councillor Duane Smith, a former member of the party's young professional affiliate group, Generation 2000 (G2K), Holness represents the future of the JLP as he is not only young but extremely competent.
For Smith, Shaw has been found wanting.
"How many losing candidates has Audley met with? How many Area Council meetings has he held since December 2011?"
Added Smith, the son of veteran politician, Derrick Smith: "I would have been a bit more receptive to his utterances and ambitions if he had a record of success as a deputy leader."
Not so, scoffed former Senator Dennis Meadows.
Meadows argued that Holness' failure to deal with the report on the cause of the JLP's two electoral losses at the national level has placed his leadership capacities into question.
"Having lost an election terribly at both the local and central government levels, and rightly commissioned a strategic review analysis to inform the way forward, I believe the leader's misstep is in not having the findings made public primarily because of internal pressure," he contended.
Added Meadows: "Though sincere, this put into question his own capacity to lead, and credibility," said Meadows. "His failure to challenge the move by the Government in the National Housing Trust matter, despite a public commitment, renders him not in charge of the party."
But for the younger Smith, some of these attributes demonstrate courage.
"In Andrew, the people of Jamaica are now satisfied that finally there is a leader of a political party who is brave enough to make the ultimate sacrifice to be truthful and totally honest with the electorate."
Added Smith: "With Andrew, what you see is what you get ... there is no underlying thrust for power but instead for the opportunity to lead this country back to a place (where) we can all live, feel safe and be prosperous."
Delano Seiveright, a former president of G2K and one-time aide to Holness, suggested that the JLP was in need of an inspirational leader which is one of Shaw's attributes.
With all the talk around them, riveting attention is likely to be focused on the body language of both men this week. Political watchers appear to be bracing for a likely leadership contest in the JLP, the first since the only one in 1978 when Mike Henry challenged Edward Seaga.
With definitive words likely to be delivered this week, there are those who are not afraid to speak their minds as they ponder the course that led to such an event for a party that has shied away from leadership contests for seven decades.
While there has been an "outpouring of affection" for both men by supporters, the venom is not far from the surface as steps/missteps of the two primary figures are being highlighted.
Shaw elicited the fury of some veterans who were once very close to him in a tightly knit group once dubbed "the traditionalists".
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange is one such member of the view that Shaw's timing is way off. Others included Holness; Derrick Smith; Pearnel Charles and Mike Henry.
Grange was not keen to speak on the matter in the aftermath of talks with Holness, following her run-in with Joan Gordon Webley, who is one of Shaw's loyalists. But last week, she publicly argued that Shaw was given two opportunities to grasp the reins of leadership but shied away.
After protracted deliberations and consultations among themselves in 2005, Shaw was reportedly one of two men selected by the traditional cadre of about 15 'traditional' JLP stalwarts including Holness to challenge Bruce Golding for the post of JLP leader, when Seaga stepped down. The other was Derrick Smith.
Shaw gets green light
The two men were reportedly given the green light to discuss the matter among themselves and an agreement was reached between the two that Shaw would be the challenger. Grange said last week that the challenge never materialised as Shaw backed out at the last minute.
Grange said Shaw was again offered the opportunity after Golding resigned in 2011 and once again got cold feet. Her assertion was supported by the younger Smith.
"I have no problem with Mr Shaw, but it is my view that he is 'two times' late in his quest to become leader of the JLP."
Added the younger Smith: "I have no issue with Shaw, I have traversed the length and breadth of the island to various political meetings just to hear 'Man a Yard' rip through the failures of the People's National Party."
Seiveright is however of the view that under Holness, the JLP is in sleep mode.
"We need a leader who can articulate a clear vision for the country and communicate it effectively to the Jamaican people," he argued. "A leader who can get on the ground, in the trenches, inspire the party's base and get the JLP out of sleep mode."
Meadows said Shaw's approach has been far-reaching.
"The approach by the Shaw camp to embark on a process of consultation demonstrates respect for the various political functionaries on the ground," he argued. "These include the caretakers, polling division workers who are often neglected by the party leadership."
Meadows argued that the members of parliament aligned to the JLP have no more a role than the caretakers in the election of a leader as the JLP constitution does not recognise MPs.
"The MPs' role under the Jamaican Constitution is to select the prime minister and leader of the opposition," said Meadows. "I believe the challenge at worst will energise the party and put to rest the issue of leadership in the JLP ... whoever emerges, their legitimacy will be unquestionable."
His sentiments were endorsed by Seiveright.
"Right now, for me, what the JLP needs is true democracy and, as such, to allow the delegates on the ground to decide who leads them."
But the manner in which both camps have proceeded since Shaw's announcement that he would be engaging in consultations has not gone unnoticed in the excitement.
Smith admitted he was upset with Shaw.
"He has drawn the ire of myself and many well-thinking Labourites when he publicly stated that his reasons for considering a challenge on incumbent party leader Andrew Holness ... for every reason he has stated are the things he has direct responsibility for as deputy leader."
Added Smith: "I fully endorse democracy within the party and with the same vigour I respect the party's constitution and, as such, I respect Mr Shaw's potential challenge for the leadership of the party. He just doesn't have my support."
But Meadows has a different perspective.
"Consequent to the announcement of Mr Shaw's pending challenge, I believe missteps were made by Mr Holness when he allowed his palace guards to criticise Mr Shaw in distasteful and vitriolic terms," he said.
"There was no effort on his part to offer leadership in stemming the bellicose rhetoric by (Dr Andrew) Wheatley, (Everald) Warmington, et al ... I believe in the main, the tone emanating from the Shaw camp has been civil, with slight deviation."
Meadows suggested that in the days ahead, both men must demonstrate their capacity for leadership by keeping a tight rope on their supporters and reining in those among them who are steeped in the old style of politics and unfriendly to democracy.
"This will ensure that the JLP emerges from this challenge unscathed," he said.