Jamaica's departing prime minister met privately with his Cabinet colleagues Monday as the Caribbean country's governing party looked for a new chief to lead them into next year's general elections.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding has made no public comments since he and the Jamaica Labor Party announced Sunday that he is stepping down after four years in office. They said Golding would formally resign once a new party leader is chosen in an internal election expected in November.
Attention focused on Education Minister Andrew Holness and Commerce Minister Christopher Tufton, young Labor politicians who are relatively popular with the public. Another possibility is the finance minister, Audley Shaw.
Golding has suffered from anemic public backing because of his handling of the 2009 U.S. extradition request for Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher "Dudus" Coke. But his announcement still surprised many people in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, a region where embattled politicians have a history of trying to cling to power.
In a Monday editorial, the newspaper Jamaica Gleaner said the 63-year-old prime minister's resignation is unprecedented in the island's political history _ if it is not a political ploy to rally his supporters.
"Taking the prime minister at his word, we are truly encouraged by something which would amount to a substantial act of patriotism," the editorial said.
Labor Party chairman Mike Henry raised that issue himself by saying that the party's central committee hoped to persuade Golding to reconsider, although Information Minister Daryl Vaz said the decision was final.
Henry also dismissed suggestions that Golding's resignation was a sign of disarray in the party.
Rupert Lewis, a political science professor at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, said the extradition battle over Coke in 2009 and 2010 hobbled Golding and "exposed the degeneration of party politics and the international gangsterism and criminality which many Jamaicans across party lines have come to accept as part of how the party system works."
Golding, whose Parliament district included Coke's West Kingston slum stronghold, resisted extradition for nine months, arguing the U.S. indictment on gun- and drug-trafficking charges relied on illegal wiretap evidence. The stance led Washington to question Jamaica's reliability as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
When Golding finally agreed to send Coke to the U.S., a hunt for the fugitive led to days of fighting in May 2010 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.
Golding has been Jamaica's prime minister since 2007, when he returned the Labor Party to power after 18 years in opposition.