Bruce Golding — a man of many firsts

ORETTE Bruce Golding is no stranger to setting records.

At age 24, he became the youngest member of the House of Representatives; He was named the first ever minister of the newly created Ministry of Construction after the snap election of December 1983; he was the first president of the National Democratic Movement; and if he steps down as per the announcement a week ago, Golding, 63, will be the first sitting PM to resign after just one term in office.

As the clock ticks down to his departure date, there is likely to be no end to Jamaicans' analysis of Golding's political rise and untimely fall from power, which may not end even when he finally addresses the subject in a national broadcast this evening at 8:00.

The man who ascended to the pinnacle of power in Jamaica when his Jamaica Labour Party won the election of 2007, has been on a journey dotted with controversy, the most notable of which surrounded the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke to the US in June last year.

The controversy deepened when, Golding initially denied that the Government had engaged US law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to assist it with extradition matters, then later revealed that he was not only aware, but sanctioned a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) initiative to retain the firm.

The PM's attempt to separate the functions and role of party leader and prime minister in the matter resulted in widespread criticism, calls for his resignation, and the adoption of a damage control plan by the party to try to achieve some amount of redemption.

That, many political pundits agree, was the single most damaging blow to his political career causing him to lose political capital not only in his West Kingston constituency, but nationally as well.

The third of four children for the late Tacius and Enid Golding, the PM's early education at Alpha Primary School, St George's College and Jamaica College, where he became head boy, gave him a solid start to take on the rigours of life.

He grew up in an era in which academic and sports standards in the high school system were exceedingly high and had to live in the shadows of classroom gurus like Ronnie Thwaites and Trevor Munroe of St George's, who both went on to become Rhodes Scholars and the latter also a track star of merit.

It was the golden era for boys' schools like St George's and JC, Kingston College, Wolmer's, Cornwall College and Munro to maintain their dominance over their rivals in academic performance and sports, topped during the period by Kingston College's fantastic schoolboy football successes of 1964 and 1965.

Golding earned a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of the West Indies in 1969, then started his long political race when the JLP's Central Executive. Three years later, at the time of the next general election that swept the People's National Party into power after a 10-year absence, Golding got the approval of the people of West St Catherine to represent them, thus confirming his status as a second-generation politician, picking up the baton from his father.

Following a loss in West St Catherine in 1976, adjustments in constituency boundaries and names, Clarendon-born Golding was to later become a fixture for the JLP in Central St Catherine, being a part of the team that succeeded in convincing a majority of Jamaicans that the Cuban threat of the 1970s was real.

Michael Manley's Democratic Socialism philosophy had taken on new dimensions and in the eyes of his critics inside and outside of the PNP, had become so threatening to life that something should be done about it.

The JLP, inspired by its leader Edward Seaga, and backed by bright individuals like Golding, who was in charge of the campaign, Errol Anderson, and others, successfully managed to tell the nation that Cuba's influence on Manley, and by extension the island, was too much of a risk. It worked, and resulted in a big 51-9 seat victory for the JLP. Golding, who had been appointed JLP general secretary in 1974, went on to become the first Minister of Construction, a combination of the previous two ministries of housing and works. He served until the 1989 general election when the JLP was pushed from office.

Such was his effect on the JLP and the promise that he showed, that Labourites promoted Golding from a decade of work as general secretary in 1984 to the powerful and influential position of party chairman and obvious heir apparent to Seaga. He served as chairman until 1995, a most crucial time in his life when he resigned from the party over a fuss that also engulfed the now infamous 'Gang of Five' issue, a claim that influential party members had teamed up to topple Seaga as party leader.

Several years of work as a party functionary had seemingly gone up in smoke. Golding had, at the time, not only served the House of Representatives as the member for West St Catherine and Central St Catherine for a combined 19 years, but the Upper House as a senator for nine years.

His decision to form a third party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM) in 1995, had a resounding effect on the island's political landscape. As the NDM's first president, it was primarily left up to him to try to reshape the way Jamaicans saw politics and the work of political parties.

The party did not win a single seat in the 1997 general election, taken again in style by the PNP, but some of its candidates, like Golding who secured over 2,000 votes to trail JLP winner Olivia 'Babsy' Grange in Central St Catherine, Brascoe Lee in South Trelawny and Wayne Chen in North East Manchester, left telling impressions on the electorate.

The NDM also lost a by-election in the North East St Ann seat in 2001, forcing Golding to quit and start a talk show called Disclosure on Hot 102 FM. When news started swirling about his imminent return to the JLP, Golding, up to his last day on air, kept denying any such move.

The NDM before that had powerful and influential supporters and sympathisers, among them the present principal of the Norman Manley Law School, Professor Stephen Vasciannie, who had a not-to-be-healed falling out with Golding when he returned to the JLP camp weeks before the 2002 general election.

The two, who had not exchanged a word since that time, broke the ice earlier this year when they met at a function at the law school. Before that, Golding moved decisively to block a decision by the Public Service Commission to appoint Vasciannie as solicitor general when the JLP assumed power in September 2007.

Vasciannie had won considerable respect in legal circles while he served as deputy solicitor general in the previous administration. He left an indelible mark at Oxford University where he studied law and earned the distinction as the Jamaican Rhodes Scholar with the best overall academic performance in the history of the programme.

Golding won out in the end by firing the members of the commission, appointing a new one and having his preferred choice, Douglas Leys taking up the mantle.

But Golding's second coming in the JLP was not as smooth as that of the Prodigal Son of Biblical fame. Some of the party's stalwarts saw him as a direct threat, while others, particularly the younger group, embraced him wholeheartedly. He was again appointed party chairman, as well as senator and Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade. His appointment as leader of the Opposition on February 20, 2005, and his subsequent election as MP for West Kingston on April 13 that same year, following Seaga's decision to step down and enter academia, put him in pole position for another grand takeoff toward the political Promised Land.

Pledging to be the change for which Jamaicans were clamouring, Golding took the Oath of Office as Prime Minister on September 11, 2007, following his party's narrow victory at the polls.

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