Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The lengthy reigns of past leaders of the two major political parties are unlikely to be replicated in the future as politicians contend with the transforming dynamics of giving service to country, according to People's National Party (PNP) Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson.
Robinson, who was among PNP officials who were guests at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, said there was no shame that the 75-year-old party has had only four leaders in its history.
"I think the demands of leadership today - even though they would have been challenging 50 years ago - is such that it is difficult for someone to remain in a position for an extended period of time, for 20 years or more," Robinson said.
Robinson's PNP, formed in 1938, celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this month.
The party's first leader, National Hero Norman Manley, served for 29 years until 1969. He was succeeded by his son, Michael, who served for 23 years, from 1969 until 1992.
Manley served as prime minister from 1972 to 1980 and returned to power in 1989.
He retired from active politics in 1992, and was succeeded by P.J. Patterson.
Patterson served as party president and prime minister from March 1992 to March 2006 - 14 years - during which time he won three consecutive general elections.
Portia Simpson Miller would succeed Patterson in 2006, after securing more votes than three other contenders for the post of party president. She subsequently lost the 2007 general election, and was challenged in 2008 by Dr Peter Phillips.
"The trajectory of tenure between P.J. Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller is shorter, when compared to the period of Norman Manley and Michael Manley," Robinson noted.
It is a trajectory he believes is true for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as well.
Holness facing challenge
Currently, JLP leader Andrew Holness is facing a challenge from Deputy Leader Audley Shaw for the reins of the 70-year-old party.
Sunday Gleaner efforts to get an on-the-record response from JLP officials were unsuccessful.
Some individuals contacted said they would not comment, given the current leadership challenge.
Political commentator Troy Caine said the current contest in the JLP was a great benefit to the individuals and to the party. However, without term limits being set by the parties, he said he believed Robinson's argument could not be be substantiated.
"Enduring a challenge does not guarantee that a leader will lose, but it will engage the internal democratic process. You can't just look at the current set of politicians and say they are not going to be like the other guys," said Caine.
According to him, "Everybody who becomes a political leader in Jamaica wants to be political leader forever, and only term limits will provide any guarantees."
It's a position supported by attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley.
"I agree with Robinson's argument, and I also agree on term limits. There is the clamour for accountability and transparency. In furtherance of those, you need to have the adoption of the convention of democratic parties in the Westminster model, where the losing leader offers his resignation," argued Ashley.
He said the raison d'Ítre of any party is to gain political power, and losing leaders should offer their resignation at the time of the concession.
Between 1943 and 2005 the JLP had only two leaders, though it supplied the nation with four prime ministers.
The party's first leader was National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante, who became Jamaica's first prime minister after Independence in 1962.
Although Bustamante left public life in 1967, he continued as leader until 1974. He was succeeded by Edward Seaga, who defeated Wilton Hill in the race for leadership.
Seaga served until 2005, and was prime minister from 1980 to 1989.
The JLP spent much of the Seaga years in opposition.
He was succeeded by Bruce Golding in 2005, and Golding was succeeded by Holness in 2011.