ASSUMING Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Deputy Leader Audley Shaw doesn't get cold feet and back down at the last minute, Labourites will have a clear leadership choice at their annual conference in November.
The choice will profoundly impact Jamaican political life well beyond the next election cycle.
They can retain Andrew Holness, who describes himself as "a transformational leader" offering "a new style of politics" demanded by a majority of the post-Independence generation of Jamaican voters; or they can promote Mr Shaw, whose combative style is seen by supporters as better equipped to fire the base and take on Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
For West Portland member of parliament and Shaw backer Daryl Vaz, it's all about "winnability", that is, electing the person more likely to lead the party to victory at the next general election which could be more than three years away..
At the time of writing (Thursday), Mr Shaw was sticking to his timetable to announce in a broadcast Sunday night that he will challenge for the leadership; his campaign team should be announced; and both he and Opposition Leader Holness will start their eight-week trek across the country to woo delegates.
Also, the controversy about eligibility of constituencies to register delegates to vote in the historic election was due to be settled Friday to the satisfaction of both camps; so the contest is truly on.
From the perspective of party democracy, a leadership contest should be good for the JLP as it would allow the party to heal old wounds that were papered over when personal ambitions were temporarily set aside to anoint Mr Holness in 2011, without a contest, after Bruce Golding self-destructed and had to quit as prime minister and party leader.
At issue is whether the JLP will use the opportunity to renew itself and unite around a leader and a political programme that the Jamaican electorate can embrace as a viable alternative government.
How it all plays out will depend on several factors, including the tone of the campaign and the messaging, especially on how to get the country out of the economic slump through investment, jobs and improving efficiency and accountability in government administration.
Some of the opening salvos from representatives of both sides suggested that the campaign could be acrimonious, and the country could see a replay of what seems to be a JLP tradition of resorting to fractiousness and division.
Mr Holness claimed to have called a halt to the early sniping but yet allowed himself some divisive comments in a television interview Wednesday night (All Angles with Dionne Jackson Miller) when he dismissed the political credentials of some of the persons who have publicly come out in support of Shaw.
Vaz immediately shot back, calling the statement "unfortunate" and inconsistent with Holness urging members of the party to desist from making negative comments about each other.
Another indication of post-election rancour emerged in that same television interview Wednesday night when Mr Holness served notice that if he loses the November contest he will try again, because he has "ambitions" for Jamaica that can only be realised from the perch of head honcho.
He said, "I have ambitions, I want to lead this country, I want to make a difference in the life of the Jamaican people." He added that he would seek to regain the leadership should Mr Shaw wrest it from him now.
The comment threw some party insiders off-guard because it signalled a potential period of instability rather than uniting around whoever emerges as leader.
Clearly, the politically correct statement would have been to tell the interviewer that he had no intention of losing, so an issue of future challenge would not arise, but Andrew Holness has a way of speaking his mind. Remember his 2011 election promise of "bitter medicine" if he should win?
JLP as a leader-centric party
The contest would not be the first head-to-head leadership contest in the 70-year history of the party. JLP founder Sir Alexander Bustamante was leader from 1943 to 1974. The tenure includes the period when Sir Donald Sangster served as prime minister from 1965 to his untimely death in 1967. Also, in the period 1967 to 1974 when Hugh Shearer was prime minister he was never elected party leader.
Edward Seaga emerged leader in 1974, the first to hold that position since Bustamante. Seaga (1974-2005), who overcame a challenge from Mike Henry in the early 2000s, would himself be encouraged to make way for Bruce Golding (2005-2011) when elements in the party and the financial backers determined that Seaga's continued leadership of the party would forever condemn them to the political wilderness.
Holness (2011-present) emerged when Mr Golding resigned, having become a political liability over his handling of the US request for the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the now self-confessed gangster.
With polls showing Mr Holness as the man best positioned to beat Portia Simpson Miller and the People's National Party, Mr Shaw and the other aspirants for leadership of the JLP parked their ambitions to give the party its best chance of winning a second term. That didn't happen and the truce evaporated.
Shaw, who put his personal ambition on hold -- first for the return of Golding and then the anointing of Holness -- now believes his time has come, especially as many Labourites see Holness as indecisive and too laid-back.
The Holness style is not consistent with the historic characterisation of the JLP as a leader-centric party which draws its inspiration and political programme from the orientation of a strong leader such as Bustamante or Seaga, rather than from shared core values.
Indeed Holness told Mrs Jackson Miller Wednesday night, "I've never been a leader-centric person." Rather, he sees himself as "reaching out" to the broader electorate beyond the JLP base.
Addressing a gathering hosted by the JLP affiliate Generation 2000 (G2K) at the UWI in April he defended his leadership style, dismissing talk of his perceived weak leadership as "foolishness". On the contrary, he described himself as "a strong leader" suited for these times.
"The Jamaica Labour Party needs a leader who is willing to face the people and challenge them to change the way we have been doing things for the past 50 years," he said.
Shaw, the more traditional politician, talks about the need to rebuild the base of the party, strengthen the organisational structure and be more critical of the Government's economic management.
The Manchester MP, who does not miss an opportunity to present himself as 'man-a-yaad', is sharp-tongued and will be more forceful in exploiting the cracks in the armour of Portia Simpson Miller for political advantage in difficult economic times.
A Shaw victory would ramp up the politics and possibly divert focus from the carefully crafted medium-term economic programme on which so much depends; the governing PNP would get into counter-attack mode instead of sticking to the difficult terms of the IMF deal.
The truth is that Jamaica has few economic options, given the crippling debt which hamstrings everything. Hopefully, the campaign will be spared the name-calling and sniping and the wider public will be offered a vision of a better future. Political leadership is a lot more than realising personal ambition.