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All challengers welcome — Holness

Opposition leader unafraid of rivals

BY JANICE BUDD Associate editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 04, 2013    

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OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness says he has no intention of resting on his laurels and assuming that his position as leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is secure.

In fact, he told journalists at the Jamaica Observer Press Club last week that while he goes about rebuilding the party, he expects to face challenges to his leadership.

"It is a natural part of the political process. I don't understand why people feel that a challenge spells disaster. No, it's a natural part of the process," Holness said last Thursday, just a little over a year since his party's drubbing at the polls in December 2011.

He was responding to a question about whether he felt there might yet be a challenge of his stewardship of the party by the JLP's former member of parliament for South West St Elizabeth, Dr Christopher Tufton.

Tufton was, in fact, seen as the main rival to front-runner Holness among six contenders for the leadership of the JLP after former Prime Minister Bruce Golding's surprise resignation in November 2011 in the fallout from the Dudus/Manatt extradition affair.

Tufton and three other JLP heavyweights who had an interest in the job — Audley Shaw, Robert Montague and Dr Ken Baugh — all forfeited their own political ambitions to throw the weight of their support behind the man who, at age 39, eventually became Jamaica's youngest prime minister.

Holness cited similarities between himself and Tufton, including the fact that the two joined the party together and charted similar political paths, up to a point when Tufton joined the National Democratic Movement.

He added that Tufton also later decided to return to academia and do his Phd.

"We share very similar views, ideals, principles, values and ideas and we do work very closely together," said Holness of his political peer, but noted that this was no guarantee of security in his own tenure as leader.

"I know right now of no challenge, but everybody must have some form of ambition. Just like in the PNP, one can never tell if (Dr) Peter Phillips will challenge the prime minister. It has happened there before, twice," Holness added with a chuckle.

"All who feel to are free. It is a democracy and I am a firm believer in democracy," he said, citing his decision to stand on the chopping block before party delegates last year. The JLP failed to retain a second consecutive term office the year before.

"I called a delegates' conference. If anyone felt they wanted to challenge, then that would be the time. I was brave enough to call a delegates' conference and nobody stepped up. We will call another one again. All those people who felt that I was nervous and afraid, they didn't see the play and read it. I called a delegates' conference. So those who feel the party is weak and is at odds with itself, not so," he declared.

"Sometimes the political discourse just does not fully analyse... because that was not fully analysed. Why did I call that delegates' conference? Was it because we couldn't fill the arena? We would have had a fuller arena. What the PNP had inside the arena was nonsense. I saw the buses of people coming back from the PNP conference and they were looking very depressed."

As for other would-be challengers — among them members of the party's old guard who have openly refused to relinquish their own leadership ambitions — a confident Holness said his revamping of the JLP would be his curriculum vitae and would determine whether he retains the confidence of the majority of the party.

"My duty is to do my work, to put the programmes in, get the results. Those who want to stay on the sidelines and criticise, those who have other ambitions and want to do other things, they will have to look at the results. I have never been someone who has been insecure in myself or afraid of challenges," said Holness.

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