When Bruce Golding took over the pinnacle of political power in a challenging Jamaica, it was the crowning moment in a long political career that ended almost a two decades long political drought for the Jamaica Labor Party.
Four years and several high-profile scandals later, including the extradition of the country’s most notorious drug kingpin, Golding is calling it quits.
“The challenges of the last four years have taken their toll,’’ Golding said in a statement.
Jamaica observers and politicians say while the timing of Golding’s announcement came as a surprise, the decision did not. Since the JLP’s 2007 thin victory at the polls, the party has been struggling against a global recession that caused the loss of thousands of jobs, scandals involving leaders and the affair involving its most well-known and feared drug lord, Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
Coke is facing up to 23 years in U.S. prison for his involvement in an international crime ring. He has asked a U.S. federal judge for leniency after pleading guilty, raising suspicions and rumors that he’s cooperating with U.S. authorities and may have implicated members of the JLP.
Either way, his case has rocked Jamaica, the JLP and Golding. It has raised questions about the prime minister’s credibility and leadership after he spent months stonewalling a U.S. extradition, arguing it breached Jamaican law. In the process, he was weakened and became even more vulnerable to the opposition People’s National Party.
“He has spent most of his political capital for the biggest drug don in Caribbean history,’’ said David Rowe, a South Florida Jamaican-born law professor. “He’s weak and he has done a very bad job. He has not had a very coherent foreign policy and his government has been dominated by scandal and influence of the Shower Posse (Coke’s group).’’
For its part, the PNP has called for general elections, saying that Jamaica is suffering from a “governance crisis.’’
“He has lost the moral authority to govern. Not just him but truthfully his entire Cabinet is tainted,’’ said Peter Bunting, general secretary and spokesman for the opposition People’s National Party. “The public opinion polls have showed over the last year that the majority of Jamaicans believe the prime minister should resign and he cannot be trusted and that is not a sustainable position for a leader of our country.’’
Said former JLP leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga: “The polls are against him and with the capital spent, he would not be able to lead his party. He would have a very difficult time leading the party into the next elections.’’
Seaga, who now serves as chancellor of the University of Technology in Jamaica, said he was not asked for advice on the decision by Golding, his former protégé.
Critics say while the matter could be viewed as a strictly Jamaica affair, it carries lessons for island nations throughout the Caribbean region about the need to protect party financing to avoid criminal elements such as Coke, whose West Kingston stronghold is in Golding’s district.
“The question of distancing yourself form the criminal elements that exists in a society is critical,’’ said Brian Meeks, a professor of social and political change at the University of West Indies Mona campus in Jamaica. “It means establishing firewalls for party financing that can be written into constitutions and code of ethics. Party financing is critical, that is where the criminals meet the politicians.’’
Meeks said while Jamaica has had other leaders who have stepped aside — the most recent being former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson —Golding’s decision is unprecedented.
“This whole Dudus event has damaged him in so many different ways. Among the non-committed people who tilted toward the JLP and allowed it to win in the last election, Golding has lost credibility entirely in that group,’’ he said. “He’s lost credibility at the JLP grassroots…it’s lose, lose.’’
And damaged credibility can decide an election, say political observers in Jamaica. Still, it doesn’t mean that Golding’s woes are a shoo-in victory for the opposition, which has been wrestling with its own internal leadership troubles since it lost power after 18 1/2 years.
“Everything is up for grabs and what happens will have to do with the choices the JLP makes,’’ Meek said.
Daryl Vaz, minister of information for Jamaica, said Golding is expected to step down either when the party meets Nov. 19-20, or just before. The decision about a successor has not yet been made.
Vaz said Golding has been considering his future for the past 12 months, evaluating it in terms of the administration that has faced both economic and politics problems.
“The country has weathered the economic storm well but it has taken a severe toll politically,’’ Vaz said. “The people are losing jobs and declining conditions for people’s own lives and quality of their lives.
“He’s taken a decision it seems that a new leader would be able to focus more and take on the continued challenges we face,’’ he said.
At 62, Golding is among the older leaders of the Caribbean region. But changing the leadership at the helm of the party is no guarantee that it will win at the polls especially in Jamaica where the opposition has had its own problems after losing power to the JLP after 18 ½ years.
Coke has pleaded guilty to racketeering and assault charges and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8. He is asking leniency in his case. A four-day manhunt last year in his West Kingston slum stronghold resulted in the deaths of 73 civilians and three security officers.
Earlier this summer, a three-judge panel found that Golding acted inappropriately when he refused to let the extradition order be served against Coke.
This article was published by The Miami Herald on September 26, 2011.
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