The powerful endorsements brought to 12 the number of Government MPs who have publicly declared their support for Holness, who is likely to be the only candidate when nominations for the post of JLP leader close on October 20. The governing JLP has 32 members in the 60-seat legislature, but it is unlikely that a challenger will emerge to take on the popular education minister following yesterday’s show of support.
Holness had emerged as the front-runner of six contenders to replace Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who told the JLP’s Central Executive on September 25 that he would be stepping down as leader and prime minister at the party’s annual conference in November. Golding later cited the Dudus/Manatt affair as one the reasons for his early exit.
But yesterday, in a show of solidarity, four of five JLP heavyweights who had an interest in the job — Audley Shaw, Dr Christopher Tufton, Robert Montague and Dr Ken Baugh — all took to the podium at a hastily convened press conference at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston to explain the “sudden change of heart” to forfeit political ambitions and support the man who could become Jamaica’s youngest prime minister.
The four parliamentarians informed a packed room of fellow MPs, councillors, party officers and supporters that they were putting aside personal ambitions to place country ahead of self.
Other MPs who attended the press conference included Tarn Peralto, Delroy Chuck, Othneil Lawrence, St Aubyn Bartlett, Andrew Gallimore, Derrick Smith, Horace Chang, Rudyard Spencer, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Pearnel Charles and Franklin Witter. Senator Desmond McKenzie, the mayor of Kingston and a deputy leader of the party, was also on hand to support Holness.
Dr Tufton, who was viewed as Holness’ main rival, said that putting country before self was the hallmark of leadership. “I have said consistently during this process that it is Jamaica first, party and political ambitions afterwards,” Tufton said.
He said he made the decision to opt out of the race after much prayer and consultation with colleagues, friends and family. He added that he was convinced that Holness has the support, respect, political experience and intellectual capacity to make him more than suitable and qualified to be leader of the party and prime minister.
“It should be noted that Andrew has the overwhelming support of his political colleagues and this is a very critical ingredient towards building loyalty, support and unity in moving not only country forward but party,” Tufton said.
Tufton, one of the JLP’s four deputy leaders, encouraged delegates, workers and supporters of the party and Jamaicans generally to support Holness.
Shaw, who was seen as another top rival, said he decided to withdraw his name from consideration in the best interest of the party, even as he declared his full support for Holness.
He, however, made it clear that there was no question about the demonstrated experience, capacity and vision that he and the other aspirants could bring to the role of leadership. That aside, Shaw said the current time and circumstances dictate that country and party be put first.
“We cannot afford to be distracted over any period of time from the primary task of continuing to maintain stability in the economy and rebuild the economy from the ravages of the legacy of the PNP,” he said.
Noting that he is not yet over the hill at 59, Shaw said Holness will have his full support and experience for his remaining time in politics.
Meanwhile, Montague, a deputy chairman of the JLP who had cut short an overseas trip to return home immediately following the prime minister’s announcement, was equally strident in his support for Holness.
“There comes a time when personal ambitions and party politics must play second place to the country we love, and indeed this is that time,” Montague told the gathering.
Montague said that he was among a number of persons who were asked to express interest in going forward to lead the party. He added that following a three-day islandwide consultation it became clear that Labourites wanted the party to support one candidate and ensure that the number one objective be country over self and party. “I did not go for endorsement or support, I went to get advice,” he said.
Dr Baugh, meanwhile, said Holness came out as the front-runner on merit. “Andrew has been a consistent performer over the years… one who has demonstrated a well-organised mind, structured representation and good leadership,” he said.
“I am pleased to congratulate him and offer him my full support, not only for now, but in the very near and exciting future for JLP and Jamaica,” he added.
Dr Baugh, the deputy prime minister, said Holness thinks outside the box, is innovative and well informed. “I believe he is ready for the job… I want to congratulate and support him and give him the support of my constituency,” he said.
Holness, in a response which sounded much like a victory speech, said consensus is never an easy path, but it is the right path.
“I know it is not easy, but you have acted as statesmen… you have put personal interest and ambitions aside and you have put the national interest in the forefront,” Holness said in thanking his parliamentary colleagues.
But even as he made it clear that his candidacy is not yet a done deal, given that the party delegates will be the ones to ratify his position as leader, Holness wasted no time in identifying the hallmarks of his future leadership as unity and continuity.
“I have served in the JLP from the lowest level and now to the highest…I know the party enough to say one of the important themes of my leadership will be unity,” he said, adding that “a united party will make a united government and a united government will make a strong country”.
“Another theme of my leadership will be continuity, and that is very important for stability,” he said.
The 39-year-old Holness also promised to approach the task at hand with sobriety and not be lost in the moment. He also gave the commitment that Jamaica would maintain a strong anti-corruption stance, even as he assured international partners that Jamaica fully intends to fulfil all obligations.
Absent at yesterday’s press conference was party chairman Mike Henry, who would have rounded off the list of aspirants to replace Golding when he steps down from the position next month. It was left to Holness to inform the media that Henry asked him to deliver a message to the people.
“The chairman of the party and I had a discussion; at the end of discussion he said I want you to let the people know that I believe in consensus and unity in the party,” Holness told the press conference.
Meanwhile, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) yesterday congratulated Holness on the overwhelming endorsements.
The PNP said it will, however, reserve its formal congratulations until after an official decision regarding the new leader of the country is communicated to the nation.