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The Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller – Jamaica’s Seventh Prime Minister

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The Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, O.N., M.P.:
First served from March 31, 2006, to September 10, 2007, and again from January 6, 2012, to February 2016

Portia Lucretia Simpson, “Sista P,” “Mama P,” or just “Portia,” was born in the rural district of Wood Hall, St. Catherine, on December 12, 1945.

Mama P was determined to be a politician who worked to help the Jamaican people, especially the poorer classes, and displayed a keen interest in providing social services in inner city communities since she was a teenager.

In 1974 she made her entrance into Jamaican politics when she was elected as a PNP councilor, representing Trench Town on the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), and in 1976 she was elected to the Jamaican parliament as the MP for South Western St. Andrew, a seat she had never lost since.

Between 1977 and 1980, she served as a parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and, later, in the Office of the Prime Minister.  Mrs. Simpson-Miller has held several cabinet appointments during her political career.  These include Minister of Labor, Welfare, and Sports (1989); Minister of Labor and Welfare (1993–1995), Labor, Social Security and Sport (1995–2000), Tourism and Sport (2000–2002), and Local Government, Community Development and Sport (2002–2006).

In 1992 when Michael Manley retired as PNP leader, she challenged P.J. Patterson for the party leadership but lost. When Patterson announced his retirement in 2006, she made a strong bid to be elected party leader.   She defeated Dr. Peter Phillips by 237 votes and consequently became Jamaica’s first female and seventh prime minister on March 31, 2006.

Although she was received with phenomenal popularity as prime minister and attempted to implement reforms to roll back the scourge of poverty, divisions in the PNP following the bruising presidential elections prevented her from being successful.   Additionally, there was resistance from some in the urban middle class to accept her as the nation’s leader.   The PNP, led by Simpson-Miller, subsequently lost the 2007 general elections to the JLP, led by Bruce Golding.

Assuming her new role as leader of the opposition, Simpson Miller set about strengthening her position as the PNP leader.   She would then travel the country, recognizing and understanding the social and economic plight of the majority. Her quest to satisfy the needs of the rural and urban poor led some Jamaicans to refer to her as the “female Bustamante.”

After Golding resigned as prime minister in October 2011, his successor, Andrew Holness, called early elections on December 29, and Simpson Miller led the PNP to a convincing victory over the JLP. On January 5, she was sworn in again as prime minister, leading the nation into its 50th anniversary of independence.

In April 2012, she was named by the renowned Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential individuals.

During her second tenure, she led Jamaica through challenging economic constraints and restored the nation’s economy to a favorable standing; her actions earned the commendation of multilateral financial institutions like the IMF.

During her second tenure, Mrs. Simpson-Miller’s popularity with poor and rural Jamaicans grew, and the government formed by the PNP was considered too firmly entrenched. The PNP was considered certain to win the ensuing general elections, which she called on February 29, 2016.

But in one of Jamaica’s most stunning electoral defeats, the PNP lost the elections by the slimmest margin of just one seat to the Andrew Holness-led JLP.

Disappointing and bruised, Simpson Miller was relegated to the leader of the opposition one more time.  Her political journey was indeed coming to an end, especially as she shouldered the blame for leading the party through a weak election campaign. Not surprisingly, she retired as leader of the PNP and the opposition on April 2, 2017.

A biopic of the life and work of Portia Simpson Miller entitled “Break Every Rule” written and directed by Jamaican filmmaker, Lennie Little-White premiered in 2019.

 

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