Jamaica’s outgoing leader said on Sunday that public perceptions about his handling of a US extradition request for drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke contributed to his recent decision to resign.
In a nationally televised address, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding said questions about the role he played in the Coke saga, which he said affected him deeply, have remained a source of concern.
“I cannot allow the challenges we face and the issues that we as a people must confront to be smothered or overpowered by this saga and the emotions that they ignite. It would not be fair to my country; it would not be fair to my party,” Golding said.
As he has maintained previously, Golding said his nine-month opposition to the US extradition request for Coke in 2009 and last year was based on the fact that the US indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence.
“It was about a breach of our Constitution and had it been a person other than Coke it perhaps would never have become the cause celebre that it turned out to be,” said Golding, whose parliamentary district included Coke’s West Kingston slum stronghold.
After Golding reversed himself amid growing public discontent over his opposition, Coke’s supporters began barricading streets and preparing for battle in West Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens. A hunt for Coke in May last year led to four days of fighting that killed at least 73 civilians and three -security officers.
Coke was captured about a month later and extradited. He has since pleaded guilty to racketeering and assault charges, admitting his was leader of the brutal Shower Posse gang.
The prime minister’s handling of the Coke case, in particular his authorization of a US firm to lobby Washington to drop the request, provoked an outcry that threatened his political career. With opposition parties and public sector groups calling for his resignation, the governing party vouched for him following a high-level conference last year.
Golding’s address on Sunday night was the first public comment he has made since he and his Labour Party abruptly announced a week ago that he would be stepping down after four years in office. A formal resignation is expected once a new party leader is chosen by about 5,000 delegates at an upcoming party conference. The party’s leader automatically becomes the prime minister.
While stepping down from Jamaica’s No. 1 political job, it is still unclear if Golding will be closing out some four decades in politics. He made no mention of whether he planned to step down from his parliamentary seat representing West Kingston.
The Labour Party said Golding had previously planned to give up the leadership in 2014, if he led his party to victory for a second consecutive term. Golding led the Labour Party back to power in 2007 after 18 years in opposition.
On Sunday night, the 63-year-old also said a younger leader is needed to breathe new life into his party ahead of next year’s general election.
Noting that he was first elected to parliament nearly 40 years ago and would soon turn 64, Golding said it was time for members of his generation to make way for younger leaders “more in sync with 21st century realities.”
Attention has focused on Jamaican Education Minister Andrew Holness and Jamaican Commerce Minister Christopher Tufton, relatively young Cabinet members in Golding’s administration. A poll earlier this year suggested that Holness was the most popular choice to lead Labour if Golding were to resign.
If the Labour Party chooses a young politician as its chief, it will contrast sharply with the opposition People’s National Party, whose leader Portia Simpson Miller was prime minister for about a year-and-a-half before the 2007 loss to Labour.
She was first elected to parliament in 1976 and became a Cabinet member in 1989.
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