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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Jamaica to decide on 'woman power'
By Orin Gordon
BBC News, Kingston

Portia Simpson-Miller supporters
Portia Simpson-Miller supporters appreciate her popular touch

A large crowd of orange-clad supporters choked the roads as Portia Simpson-Miller's campaign convoy inched along the road in a village called Norwood on Jamaica's north coast.

More than 100 cars were also decked out in the orange of her People's National Party (PNP).

Supporters sat on tops of cars, on window sills. Huge trucks with speakers the size of small huts boomed out songs written for her.

Prime Minister Simpson-Miller stood up in her black van, throwing T-shirts and orange bracelets to supporters ahead of Monday's general election.

"You can't lose, Sista P," a shirtless men shouted at her. She beamed. They touched fists, a gesture to signify respect.

Patois

Ms Simpson-Miller is a grassroots politician through and through.

To supporters she is Sister P. It was her popular touch among party delegates that won her the leadership of the PNP against the odds when the then prime minister PJ Patterson retired in March 2006.

But if love was in the air in Norwood, it was harder to find in the capital, Kingston.

Bruce Golding
Many saw Bruce Golding the winner of the TV debates

What many see as a refreshing lack of airs and graces, others regard as an embarrassing inability to communicate well.

All Jamaican politicians slip easily into the patois on the campaign trail. Ms Simpson-Miller does it better than most.

But Dwayne and Shelly-Ann, voters at an outside bar in Kingston, were not convinced she was polished enough to "speak for us at the United Nations".

The Jamaican political picture is more complex than that, of course.

Ms Simpson-Miller and the PNP have the support of many "uptown" educated Jamaicans.

For 18 years we've had the PNP - we need to have a change
Tiffany, voter

Main opposition leader Bruce Golding and his Jamaica Labour Party have strong support in some poor areas.

The thing that swung it for Dwayne and Shelly-Ann was Ms Simpson-Miller's performance in two TV debates against Mr Golding.

"She found a million different ways to tell us nothing," said Dwayne scornfully.

"A country is a reflection of its leader. I would simply vote Labour because of [how she performed in the debates]."

You don't see a politician till he comes back again years later to ask for your votes
Mark, musician

Shelly-Ann said she used to be a Sister P person - "but the debates changed my mind".

Besides, she said: "It's not good for one party to remain in power too long."

Fellow voter Tiffany agreed. "For 18 years we've had the PNP. We need to have a change."

She admitted she was not too keen on Bruce Golding. She just disliked the government more.

Christine was not bowled over by the alternative either. "It's six of one and half a dozen of the other." She gave them both a C+, but would go for Bruce.

Mark, a dreadlocked musician, said his choice was to opt out of politics.

He said all that elections had done was to bring pain to people from the inner cities.

"A lot of people get hurt and you can't even wear a particular colour. You don't see a politician till he comes back again years later to ask for your votes".

'Woman time'

One of Ms Simpson-Miller's campaign songs is "woman a go run dis country".

Portia Simpson-Miller (R)
Ms Simpson-Miller is looking for a full five-year term

Beating men in the PNP to the leadership was a big achievement and her close supporters play it up.

Tiffany was dismissive. "I'm all for woman power but... I don't think she has the finesse to run the country."

Shelly Ann thought talk about "woman time" now was "ridiculous".

But there was sympathy for Ms Simpson-Miller at the patisserie shop, where three women were preparing a presentation on their laptops. They did not want to be named.

The first told me she was angry. "If it was a man in office, I am sure he would not get some of the criticism that Portia has faced."

She would not put it down to sexism, but it was still "too harsh".

"She's only been in office for 18 months."

Her friend, a junior lawyer, told me she was PNP through and through, and thought Ms Simpson-Miller should be given five full years to prove what she could do.

"She's the best person for the job. And she just happens to be a woman."


SEE ALSO
Jamaica set for wide-open poll
31 Aug 07 |  Americas
Gang politics 'over' in Jamaica
28 Aug 07 |  Americas
'I am seen as a symbol of hope'
15 Jun 06 |  Americas
Jamaica gets first woman leader
31 Mar 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Jamaica
02 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Jamaica
13 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

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