Men ahead in PNP race

Lone woman Brown Burke under pressure to remain VP


Sunday, September 09, 2018

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With one week to go, it appears certain that the fight to fill four positions for vice president of the Opposition People's National Party will be determined by the five men involved.

Six officials of the party — incumbents Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dr Kenneth Wykeham McNeill, Angela Brown Burke; as well as newcomers Phillip Paulwell, Mikael Phillips and Senator Damion Crawford — are competing for four places in the second-tier leadership of the party that officially celebrates 80 years of existence this weekend with its Annual Conference, the organisation's highest decision making arm.

But checks made by the Jamaica Observer showed by the lone woman — Brown Burke — is facing a mighty challenge to stay alive and again convince the delegates that she should be given another one-year term.

In an unscientific survey conducted by the Sunday Observer, it emerged that Brown Burke was the lowest ranked of all the candidates when delegates from constituencies across Jamaica were asked which four they would vote for.

The most popular of the group appeared to be Dr Fenton Ferguson, largely because he is the longest serving male on the list. But there is strong support for the three newcomers and existing admiration for Dr McNeill.

“This is going to be a straight race between all the men,” one delegate in Hanover told the Sunday Observer last week. “There is very little support for Brown Burke in the west, and I am not just talking Hanover. The men are strong and it will be one great headache to pick four from among them.”

Apart from Dr Ferguson's length of service, he was seen by some delegates as kind, generous when they called upon him in their time of need, respectful of them and generally fun loving. Dr Ferguson was the vice president who gained most votes when an election to decide the four was last held at the party's Annual Conference in 2016.

The other incumbent male, Dr McNeill was not given as many accolades as Dr Ferguson, but some delegates suggested that his presence in western Jamaica as a vice president was critical to the party's machinery in that part of the island.

As for the newcomers, there were encouraging words for all three by those who decided to speak with the Sunday Observer.

Former Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell came in for support based on the work that he has done in the science and energy sectors, with some delegates even pointing to occurrence at State-run Petrojam and insisting that the scandal-riddled company would have been better run under Paulwell's leadership.

“Phillip is an innovator,” said one delegate from Kingston and St Andrew. “His role in Jamaica's cellular boom and his management of the energy portfolio, the changes in the post offices, and the tablet in school programme are some of the good things that he has done.

“We should also remember that he played a big role too in the used car importation scheme which may be bettered only by the growth in the cellular phone industry, depending on how you want to look at it,” the delegate said.

As for Phillips and Crawford, delegates also gave them the thumbs up.

Some suggested that it was important for the son of the party president (Dr Peter Phillips) to be given a VP role, as if he were to lose it would be a slap in the face of the party leader. They also cited the younger Phillips' strident positions taken in recent months in the areas of transportation and road repairs.

Regarding Crawford, the only candidate who is not a Member of Parliament, younger delegates in particular said they would definitely vote for him. But there was also good support from delegates interviewed who were over age 50, who said that Crawford would be good to have as a vice president, mainly because of his ability to speak on “many issues” according to one, and articulate the position of the party better than anyone else.

“It is good that young people like Damion and Mikael are going up because they represent the future of the party and they should have a voice at that level from now,” another delegate from St Mary stated. “Damion still has to work out how he is going to deal with certain things that the party is accustomed to. For example, the 'naa buy out the bar' thing that he said he was against ... remains a part of the tradition of the party. You cannot just go into a community and refuse to even buy a drink if you see some people in a bar. I'm not saying that we should encourage the drinking of liquor, but that's how Jamaicans are. So he will have to decide what he does.

“Mikael is a good Jamaica College boy and we have produced some good prime ministers from JC, so you never know... we could be grooming a future prime minister here,” the delegate said.

There was commitment for Brown Burke, but of the six, her name was mentioned far fewer times in response to which four names would go on their ballots during the voting at the National Arena in St Andrew next Saturday, September 15.

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