His Holiness Prince Andrew is in a pickle. Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he procrastinated too long and must now face a groundswell of opposition from within the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which he was selected to lead after Bruce Golding ostensibly passed the ball for him to score that all important goal of winning the 2011 General Election.
He did not, and as if that crushing defeat by the People's National Party (PNP) was not enough, he went on to lose the Local Government Elections in 2012.
This double-whammy helped to fuel speculation within and outside the JLP that, contrary to earlier expectations, he was not winnable. Indeed, from his ill-advised pre-election "eucalyptus" prescription to his screeching falsetto remark "they must go, they must go!" Andrew Holness's armour began to show cracks which have further added to his vulnerability as a young leader who had never directly faced the delegates in a run-off challenge. This scenario speaks to legitimacy, which can be solidified only by the ballot box.
When his mentor Edward Seaga faced a somewhat similar scenario, the man they call the "One Don" staged a delegates' consultation, declaring that if he did not get a certain percentage of the votes cast he would throw in the towel. Needless to say, the wily Mr Seaga romped home comfortably to victory, declaring that it was the settlement of all arguments.
In retrospect, after those two devastating defeats, both at the central and local government levels, Mr Holness should have offered his resignation and allow for a plebiscite instead of digging in for the long haul while the pall of illegitimacy hangs over his head. That was the right thing to do.
It is well known that the JLP does not handle leadership races very well, so Mr Holness should have been more proactive than reactive. Now that Audley Shaw, a deputy leader with much clout, is about to throw his hat into the ring, the party is likely to descend into divisiveness, unless this challenge is handled carefully and with much aplomb.
Luckily for the JLP this time around, Mr Holness does not appear to elicit much emotional capital from the grass-roots Labourites, as say a Seaga would have. He is primarily seen as a "Mr Nice Guy", young, intelligent (perhaps too cerebral for the ordinary folk) and lacking that "fire in the belly" approach to politics.
As my late mother would say, "Don't let ghost fool you." Every successful political leader has to possess a certain level of ruthlessness in order to survive the cut and thrust of elective politics.
Mr Holness has some wonderful ideas to transform the Jamaican body politic, with respect to diffusing tribalism and setting the stage for effective and caring governance, but he cannot be too suave, laid-back and overly accommodating. This will make him look weak and ineffective.
His likely successor, Mr Shaw, is a far more openly passionate, ebullient and gregarious individual whose platform oratory and in-your-face approach will make him far more appealing to a large section of the Jamaican electorate who feel that their leader must "chaw fire" and show that he is "Man A Yard"!
However, for some, these attributes can also prove to be his Achilles heel. Many Jamaicans, especially numerous uncommitted voters, abhor the combative, loud-mouth politics of yore that have characterised the all-pervasive, corrosive partisan rhetoric.
His previous run-in with PNP president and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, which led to that "don't draw mi tongue" outburst, must not become the backdrop for future theatrics emanating from either the PNP or JLP.
That Mr Shaw is reportedly getting the backing of the moneyed class may prove to be his lethal weapon against Mr Holness for the leadership bid, as no party can survive without a lot of cash to carry out the various functions that will enable the organisation to be election ready and winnable. It was this position taken by many powerful Bruce Golding backers which led to Seaga's unceremonious departure from his beloved party and coveted post of maximum leader.
This raises the question, though, as to whether or not Mr Shaw will become a puppet to these well-known puppet masters and is it that Mr Holness's refusal to be funded by these power brokers has left him in the dog house? There is also the worrying question that Mr Holness comes from the wrong side of the track in terms of the Old Boys/Upper St Andrew syndrome.
The bottom line is that Jamaica needs a vibrant, responsive and responsible Opposition. Our democracy will falter badly if there is a sense in the electorate's mind that there is no worthwhile alternative. Also, the ruling PNP is likely to become too complacent if it is felt that it has no substantive challenge from Her Majesty's loyal Opposition.
In addition to these two situations, given the fact that some 50-odd per cent of the electorate has shown no interest in voting for either party, a worsening unemployment situation now put at 16.3 per cent and the increasing difficulties in the economy that are having many adverse effects on the populace, social instability may well become a viable option for some who will see this as an opportunity to vent their anger and frustration.
This could well make economic growth an elusive dream, especially if crime continues to be a deterrent to foreign investors and local, potential employers.
This Holness/Shaw race, if it plays out decently and maturely, can help to revive a moribund JLP that is still reeling from its 2011 debacle. But politics is a dirty business, so expect some amount of mudslinging, character assassination and even blackmail.
In the final analysis, the outcome of this contest must not only be a win for Holness and the JLP, but for Jamaica.
— Lloyd B Smith is a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. The views he expresses are his own and are not those of either the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.