New Jamaican PM to be sworn in, with promise to review anti-gay law

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Jamaica’s new Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who has said she will review the criminalisation of homosexuality in the country and not forbid gays from serving in her cabinet as former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had, is to be sworn in today.

Simpson-Miller returns to power after a convincing win at the end of year elections in which her People’s National Party defeated Golding’s replacement, Andrew Holness, who held the position for two months.

In a televised debate in December, Simpson-Miller said gays would not be forbidden to serve in her cabinet, and that the government should “have a look” at the criminalisation of gay acts, and vote freely on the matter.

Holness, of the Jamaican Labor Party, and Simpson-Miller were asked whether they supported the statement made by the former Prime Minister Golding that gays were not welcome in his cabinet.

After saying it was his responsibility to make sure the “institutions of freedom” were in place, Holness said: “My sentiments reflect the sentiments of the country. The Prime Minister has a discretion, but that discretion cannot be exercised in a vacuum.”

Holness, who was Jamaica’s youngest-ever leader, had accepted earlier in the debate that there were minimum standards of human rights to which the country had to adhere, but said Jamaican society should determine its own “civil rights”.

Simpson-Miller, however, who was Prime Minister in 2006 and 2007, said she would choose cabinet members because of “their ability to manage and to lead”, not their sexuality.

Earlier in the debate said she wanted to protect the human rights of all Jamaicans, believing the government should protect people against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, and would “review” the laws criminalising gay sexual acts.

The People’s National Party won 41 of the 63 seats at the end of December, leaving 22 for the Jamaican Labour Party. Previously, the party had occupied 28 and 32 seats respectively.

Holness said the people had “spoken”. He said: “I wish the new government well. There are challenges that they will face, challenges that we are quite well aware of. And we hope for the benefit of the country and for the interest of the people of Jamaica that they will do a good job.”

The new government will primarily have to deal with the national debt, which stands at 120% of GDP, a figure approaching Greece’s 2010 debt level of 126.8%, as well as widespread unemployment.

Simpson-Miller said she would work “unswervingly to achieve the desired growth, development, and to lift the standard of living in Jamaica”.

As a result of her relatively pro-gay comments, one member of the then-ruling party questioned whether Simpson-Miller had been paid by the international LGBT community to speak up for gay rights.

Paul Canning of LGBT Asylum News told it was “a common tactic of anti-gay politicians the world over, most often seen in Africa”.

“He asked if Simpson-Miller had made her comments in exchange for funding – the exact same ‘wedge’ tactic used against then opposition leader in Zambia, Michael Sata.”

Daryl Vaz, the minister in question, has said the questions he raised over Simpson-Miller’s statements resulted in death threats.