|Controversy over Golding's role in the extradition of drug kingpin 'Dudus' Coke has eroded his base of support [EPA]
Jamaica's governing party has announced that Prime Minister Bruce Golding will step down, as his support continues to wane over controversy stemming from the extradition of drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke.
The announcement was made on Sunday in a brief statement credited to Golding and the Jamaica Labour Party.
It said Golding informed its central executive committee of his decision at a quarterly meeting in the capital of Kingston.
"[Golding] said the challenges of the last four years have taken their toll and it was appropriate now to make way for new leadership to continue the programmes of economic recovery and transformation while mobilizing the party for victory in the next general elections," the statement said.
The 63-year-old Golding is a veteran politician who had been expected to lead his party into the 2012 general elections.
Dennis Meadows, a senator and member of the Jamaica Labour Party's executive committee, said Golding's decision to step down was made in the interest of the party.
"He feels the chances of the party winning the next elections are at a disadvantage with him at the head, but there's no questioning of his competence," Meadows said.
Golding plans to resign once a new leader of the party is elected in November. The party's leader will automatically become the prime minister.
Golding's career has been in jeopardy since 2009 over his handling of the extradition of Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher "Dudus" Coke to the United States.
Critics have slammed Golding for allowing the contracting of a law firm to lobby Washington to drop their request for extradition.
Golding resisted Coke's extradition for nine months, arguing the US indictment on gun and drug trafficking charges relied on illegal wiretap evidence.
Golding's parliamentary district included Coke's West Kingston slum stronghold.
The stance strained relations with Washington, which questioned Jamaica's reliability as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
When Golding finally agreed to send Coke to the US, a hunt for the fugitive led to days of fighting in May 2010 that left at least 73 civilians and three security officers dead. Coke was captured about a month later and extradited.
Last month, Coke pleaded guilty to racketeering and assault charges, admitting his leadership of the brutal Shower Posse gang. He is due to be sentenced in December.
The Coke controversy prompted Golding to offer his resignation last year, but it was rejected by his party.
Peter Phillips, a spokesman for the main opposition People's National Party, asserted that the ruling party's announcement was brought on by the Coke saga, one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica's recent history, and the government's inability to fix the island's poor economy.
"I think it is reflective of the low standing the prime minister has amongst the Jamaican people. His credibility was destroyed in the Christopher Coke fiasco," Phillips on Sunday.
From its national executive council gathering in the northern city of Montego Bay, the People's National Party called on Golding to immediately call general elections "to resolve the crisis of governance in the country".
Golding has repeatedly denied any ties to Coke, and resigned from the Labour Party in the mid-1990s to form a new party that would be free of gang links. He rejoined Labour in 2002.
Political observers say Golding could not have been elected to his parliament seat without the support of Coke, the former don of Tivoli Gardens, which has a long-standing reputation as a vote-rich stronghold for the Labour party.
Coke also thrived under the opposition People's National Party, which led the island for nearly two decades before Labour's 2007 win.