It was by chance that Lisa Hanna ended up on the People’s National Party’s (PNP) team for the first national debate, on social issues, leading up to Jamaica’s general election on September 3.
And, the highly popular party treasurer and former minister of youth and culture—who some political pundits see as a possible leader of the PNP in the not-too-distant future—took full advantage of the opportunity.
At the first of three political debates, held on August 25, Hanna was the clear leader of the PNP team, displaying a passion for politics and the Jamaican people as well as confidence that her party will form the next government.
In her opening statement, she displayed eloquence and poise, while posing a clear and convincing argument for the PNP’s social policies. She posited that her party “has given the majority of Jamaicans access to educational opportunities, good healthcare and social services” because it is the party that believes in “social investment and not social control.”
She then ripped into the leadership of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), suggesting that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it had “exacerbated the desperation and anxiety of Jamaican people.” She claimed that the PNP has always been the party to take Jamaica out of periods of adversity and is committed to doing it again if they win the elections.
Over the last few years, as the leadership of the PNP has come under scrutiny, Lisa Hanna has emerged as one of the party’s bright stars, with many supporters even suggesting that she would be the best fit for party leader. Her slew of admirers from around the world believe with their own certainty that she is more than just a pretty face. And her track record as a leader has also supported that argument.
Hanna was born in St. Mary in 1975, to Rene Hanna, a farmer, and Dorothy Hanna, a hairdresser in St. Ann. The Hannas moved to Kingston where she attended the Queens All-Girls High School in St. Andrew. High School was Hanna’s training ground for politics, as she blossomed as a student counsellor, house captain, games captain and eventually, head girl. At the end of her high school career, when her other classmates were beginning to look at colleges, the 18-year-old turned her attention to beauty pageants and entered the Miss World pageant.
At the 1993 pageant in South Africa, Hanna was the popular winner of the crown, becoming the third Jamaican woman to do so. Upon completing her reign as Miss World, which included attending the installation of Nelson Mandela as the first Black president of apartheid-free South Africa, Lisa returned to Jamaica to focus on her tertiary education. In 1998, she completed a bachelor degree in media and communication, followed by her master’s in communication studies in 2000—both at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica.
The former Miss World had completely thrown herself into university life, with a string of achievements, including building a computer lab in the Faculty of Arts as her final-year project.
In 2003, Hanna tried her hand in broadcasting, hosting the Jamaican talk show “Our Voices” and then later, in the United States, as a guest presenter on “Xtra.”
Continuing her lifetime theme of leadership, Lisa Hanna became Jamaica’s youngest female member of Parliament in 2007 when she contested and won the seat for South-East St. Ann. During that time, she was also appointed as the opposition spokesperson on information, youth and culture. At the 2011 general elections, the PNP came into power and she was subsequently appointed as minister of youth and culture by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, serving in that portfolio from 2012 to 2016 when the PNP lost the general elections.
During her tenure as minister of youth and culture, she formed an inter-ministerial committee for children, which collectively worked with all ministries and children’s agencies to lobby for children. The committee had several achievements, including the separation of children from adult correctional facilities and police lock-ups, the introduction of the Arts For Life Program at the South Camp Facility for Girls, the allocation of increased resources to help find missing children, and much more. She also spearheaded the successful lobby for Jamaica’s first-ever election to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee leading to Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains’ dedication as an official World Heritage Site.
She currently serves as the shadow minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade. She has been re-elected twice as MP for South-East St. Ann.
Political analysts in Jamaica are speculating should the PNP, which is far behind in the polls, lose the next general elections, party leader Dr. Peter Phillips would be strongly challenged, or could resign, and Hanna would be one of the contenders. It is also speculated if the PNP even wins, Phillips, who has serious health challenges could still resign, and again, Hanna is seen as a contender to succeed him in this scenario.
Hanna is currently married to Jamaican business giant, Richard Lake. She has one son, Alexander Panton, from a previous marriage to former senator and businessman, David Panton.