Toronto lawyer Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams returned to Jamaica 18 months ago to throw her hat into the political arena. Last week, constituents in West Central St. James in Montego Bay elected her as their member of parliament for the next four years.
Ffolkes-Abrahams upset Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) energy minister, Dr. Clive Mullings, at the polls that saw the Portia Simpson Miller-led People’s National Party (PNP) secure 42 of the 63 parliamentary seats.
“I came to serve my people and they have spoken,” Ffolkes-Abrahams told Share from her Montego Bay residence. “The journey was satisfying though it was not always easy and I am now relishing the outcome and looking forward to making my mark as a worthy politician.”
The 55-year-old Ffolkes-Abrahams was called to the Jamaica Bar in 1981 after graduating from the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados. She was called to the Ontario Bar four years later after successfully completing law studies at York University’s Osgoode Hall.
An Ontario Human Rights Commission counsel for close to two decades, Ffolkes-Abrahams said she made the decision to return to the land of her birth following the Dudus/Manatt affair.
“Something kept calling me for about four years, but when Jamaica made the international headlines in the Dudus standoff before his extradition to the United States, I was disgusted that Jamaica was making the headlines on CNN and around the world for all the wrong reasons and I knew the time was right to return. I asked myself, if not me, who and if not now, when?”
Ffolkes-Abrahams said the transition was seamless since her family has strong roots in the community and she has always maintained close contact with Jamaica through frequent visits.
Her father, Eugene Ffolkes, designed the PNP’s “rising sun” emblem at age 16 and is an Order of Distinction recipient and chairman of Cornwall Regional Hospital while her mother, Greta, has served as chair of the Mt. Alvernia High School board for several years. The family also owns the Racquet Club housing complex.
“My family has always been patriotic and I have had a yearning since I was 12 years of age to serve the poor and less fortunate,” said Ffolkes-Abrahams who was ordained a Pentecostal minister two years ago. “I feel the time I spent in Canada developing my skills and my association with the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation as vice-present and then president have provided me with the tools to help the Jamaican people. It also helped that my husband (Peter) and children have been very supportive of me and what I am doing.”
As a Commonwealth citizen, Ffolkes-Abrahams did not have to renounce her Canadian citizenship to enter representative politics in Jamaica.
She was among six PNP women candidates in Jamaica’s 16th general election since independence five decades ago. The JLP fielded 13 female candidates.
Simpson-Miller easily retained her St. Andrew South West seat, Natalie Neita-Headley won the North Central St. Catharine seat, Denise Daley outlasted former PNP parliamentarian Sharon Hay-Webster who crossed the floor to run on the JLP ticket in Eastern St. Catherine and Miss World 1993 pageant winner Lisa Hanna – the sister of Canadian rapper/actress Michie Mee – held on to the St. Ann South East seat.
Leanne Phillips was the only PNP female casualty, losing to veteran politician Karl Samuda who admitted the Dudus/Manatt episode cost the party dearly.
“Politics in Jamaica is still seen as a culture of men,” said Ffolkes-Abrahams who completed a Masters in Administrative Law at York University in 2003 and is a senior law lecturer at the University of Technology in Montego Bay and a Jamaica Gleaner columnist. “That is changing, however, and we have a strong leader in Portia who is my role model and who will take us to a new level of prosperity.”
Simpson-Miller was Jamaica’s first female prime minister and the country’s seventh when she replaced outgoing leader P.J. Patterson in March 2006. Her party lost to the JLP in the 2007 elections by a 32-28 margin. The 66-year-old joins Trinidad & Tobago’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the only female heads of government in the Caribbean.
Mikael Phillips, 39, won the North West Manchester seat and joins his 62-year-old father, Dr. Peter Phillips, as just the second father and son team to serve in the House of Parliament after the late Norman Manley and his son, Michael.