[Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from a cable sent by the US Embassy to its State Department providing details on the 2006 race for the PNP presidency. The cable highlights the classism and racism still very much in existence in Jamaica, and evident in the vitriol that was used to assail Mrs. Simpson-Miller. While concerns over her candidacy may have been reasonable, one can’t help but question the manner in which her opponents chose to voice these concerns – denigrating and demeaning the candidate, ultimately to their own detriment.]
Time: Mon, 27 Feb 2006 20:57 UTC
Portia Simpson Miller: Presumptive Next Prime Minister
¶2. (U) Portia Simpson Miller won the February 25 vote among nearly 4000 voting delegates of the governing People’s National Party (PNP), becoming only the fourth president of the PNP in its 68-year history, and the first female to head the party. More importantly, Simpson Miller, currently the Minister of Local Government, Community and Sport, now becomes the presumptive next prime minister, subject to confirmation by the PNP majority in Parliament and by the Governor General, when Prime Minister P.J. Patterson steps down as expected by April 1. As expected, it turned out to be a contest between Simpson Miller and Peter Phillips. Both camps exuded confidence heading into Saturday, but Simpson Miller, her backers, a highly respected veteran Jamaican pollster, and numerous talk-show pundits and columnists had all predicted that she would prevail, absent skulduggery. For his part, Phillips appeared to be somewhat shell-shocked when he conceded the election.
¶5. (U) The popular and populist Simpson Miller’s decision to skip the only planned debate between the candidates (Ref A) did not hurt her in the end. Though her campaign vigorously denied that she was dodging her opponents out of fear of being shown up on television/radio, many observers still remember her less-than-stellar debate performance against P.J. Patterson when she challenged him unsuccessfully for the top job in 1992. In a country of 2.6 million, Saturday’s voting pool was a small one, although Simpson Miller is almost universally acknowledged to be the most popular politician of either party in Jamaica. The sole contestant in the race from humble origins (and the only one lacking an advanced degree in a country where many rate titles above competence), she enjoys a genuine rapport with many Jamaicans from the poorer strata.
¶6. (U) The just-concluded campaign highlighted unfortunate aspects of Jamaica’s class and color biases – one prominent local columnist who has long and vigorously backed Simpson Miller recently wrote that one prominent PNP member had described Simpson Miller as only being fit to be his maid. Prickly Foreign Minister K.D. Knight, a respected lawyer who served as Phillips’ campaign manager and who has repeatedly questioned Simpson Miller’s intellect and ability, was rebuked by Patterson, who was anxious that the contest not lead to irreparable damage to the party before the next general election. In airing his views, Knight was obviously attempting to discredit Simpson Miller’s candidacy. Although he had voiced the types of criticisms of Simpson Miller frequently expressed privately by many middle- and upper-class Jamaicans, however, he may unwittingly have damaged Phillips’ efforts to attract support among the island’s poorer majority who resented his comments.
¶7. (C) Simpson Miller has a long history in the PNP, and has been a Member of Parliament since 1976. She has always made herself available to current and former U.S. ambassadors and emboffs, towards whom she has been unfailingly courteous. That said, while Simpson Miller has held a number of ministerial portfolios since she entered Parliament, she has never run a “front-line ministry” such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Finance, or National Security, and she has avoided expressing specific views on many policy issues of interest to the USG. Knight and other critics contend that she lacks the sophistication to handle such material. Only time will tell, and much will depend on whom Simpson Miller appoints to her Cabinet and to senior advisory positions. As noted reftel, however, of more immediate concern are some of the individuals behind Simpson Miller’s candidacy with known or suspected criminal backgrounds and/or associations. Septel will address those issues in greater detail.