On March 30, Jamaica's first (and
the anglophone Caribbean's second the anglophone Caribbean's third, after Dominica's Eugenia Charles and Bermuda's Jennifer Smith) female Prime Minister was sworn into office. Portia Simpson-Miller is a long-standing member of Jamaica's ruling People's National Party (PNP) who won the party's internal vote to elect a successor to retiring Prime Minister P. J. Patterson.
“Sister P. is the New PNP Leader”, was the title of one of Scratchie's blog posts shortly after the election, and in early March eon posted a photo and two carefully chosen sentences: “portia will have Jamaica and the world’s attention as no other. much depends on what she does with it.”
Francis Wade, weighing in on March 11, echoed the bio published in the Jamaica Observer, which stated that Simpson-Miller “has consistently topped opinion polls as Jamaica's most beloved political personality for many years, but has had to beat back detractors inside and outside her party who claim she lacks the requisite intellectual and social credits to lead the country.” According to Francis:
She was not supposed to win, as the word on the street was that one of her opponents was desperate enough to pay party delegates J$3000 (about US$50) to vote for him. There was more word that they (the predominantly male power brokers in the party) would never let her win.
Middle and Upper class Jamaicans were embarrassed, as Portia from time-to-time will lapse in what Trinis call “green verbs” – grammatically incorrect English — and the thought of her “H””s doing a dance from one word to another in the presence of Kofi Annan, George Bush or (God forgive us) THE QUEEN.. was just unbearable to many. . .
But regardless of that (who cares about our H’s anyway given our much bigger problems…) her election has brought a whiff of possibility.
She has come from very humble beginnings, and made herself into a leader of a nation. She overcame the odds, and she is a fighter, and we Jamaicans love that.
She kisses, and hugs, and talks about love and forgiveness and God ALL the time, and we need that — according to my wife, “What Jamaica needs now is a Mummy.”
But above all else, she talks about the future, our future. And she’s doing it in way that no-one since Michael Manley of 1972 has done it, or more importantly, been heard doing it.
“In the same vein as Liberia and Chile, they have decided that ‘Since men have gotten us into this mess, let’s see if a woman can get us out of it’,” noted Mikaila, putting things into a global context over at the pan collective on the day before the election. She added:
Now, Jamaica is an interesting climate of matrifocality and chauvinism, which means that while more women than men earn the money that supports the households, most men still feel comfortable expecting their every desire and opinion to be taken as law. So, are Jamaican men scared about this shift in power? Yes… but they are more than kind of intrigued by this female politician that is known to be Bible-quoting, baby-kissing, and just the right amount of feisty. In many ways, it is her matronly persona that won over even the most sexist of men, who will always have a soft space in their heart for their mamas.
Blogging on inauguration day, Leon couldn't help but wax a bit cynical:
My father and I were watching the news last night, witnessing the plight of ordinary Jamaicans, and a cynical smirk (much like my own) appeared on his face. He then said, “All of this will be on Portia’s head. She won’t have her fine hair for much longer.” “Why is that?” I asked. “Because these problems will gray her hair”, he said. “I remember when PJ first came into power. He had a full head of black hair. Now he doesn’t have a single strand of black hair.” He then paused. “Portia’s being sworn in tomorrow”. “Yeah”, I said. “I wonder if PJ will cry like Sir Florizel did?” We both laughed at the thought. Then my father’s countenance became grim. “She thinks it’s a bed of roses. But it’s not. I wonder how she will do.” I wondered too.
Charles Matheson was more upbeat on inauguration day, writing that “Mrs. Simpson-Miller carries with her the hopes, dreams and aspirations of that sector of the Jamaican society loosely reffered to as the “have nots”, as they see in her someone who will champion their cause. She will have to deliver on the promises and commitments she made during the run-up to her election and afterwards. All we can do at this time is give her our support.”
Citizens of other Caribbean islands had their say on the Jamaican bloggers’ comments threads, and Trinidadian Francomenz devoted part of today's post to Simpson-Miller. “This is a significant achievement not simply because she is only the second female political leader in the English-speaking Caribbean . . .,” wrote Francomenz, “but because in Jamaica, testerone levels seem to run a little higher. That this island nation is now governed by a woman is a BIG deal.”