No decision taken on special delegates' conference to settle leadership challenge

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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The People's National Party (PNP) Executive Committee last night deferred a decision on whether the vote for a new party president will be held at a special delegates' conference or at the Opposition's annual conference in September.

“The matter was discussed at the executive, no decision was taken and there are going to be further deliberations on the matter,” a party insider told the Jamaica Observer after the meeting ended.

The issue of when to settle Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting's leadership challenge to President Dr Peter Phillips arose two Sundays ago after Phillips, in response to Bunting's declared intention to contest the post, said that the matter should “be settled in a timely manner” and that the process should serve “the best interests of the PNP, so that the party can refocus its efforts on the critical national issues that are plaguing Jamaica at this time”.

Since then, Bunting has insisted that he will not participate in a special delegates' conference. Rather, he will offer himself for the leadership at the annual conference, which is the party's highest decision-making body.

But members of the party are concerned that a long campaign will only serve to inflict fresh wounds on the party which is still recovering from last April's parliamentary by-election loss in Portland Eastern, a seat it held for more than 30 years.

“The party has a dilemma. Three-and-a-half months of campaigning can't be in the interest of the party,” one PNP source told the Observer, adding that the party had still not fully recovered from the presidential election in February 2006 that saw Dr Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, Dr Karl Blythe, and Portia Simpson Miller contest the vacancy created by PJ Patterson's decision to retire from active politics.

Simpson Miller won that contest, but in 2008 Phillips mounted an unsuccessful challenge to her presidency, a move that further polarised the party.

Minutes before last night's meeting, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson told the Observer that the party's constitution allows for a special delegates' conference to take place outside of the annual conference.

Robinson said there have been special delegates' conferences in the past where party presidents have been selected.

“It [constitution] says a special party conference may be convened by the president of the party, the executive committee or on the written request of one-fourth of the members of the National Executive Council,” Robinson explained.

PNP insiders say that Bunting has been planning his challenge for a long time, and have dismissed his denial that his decision is driven by self-interest.

In declaring his intention to contest the presidency, Bunting said that since Phillips became president in March 2017 he “has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party, and is just not seen as the right person for this time”.

He also said that since the Portland Eastern by-election loss, there has been increasing speculation about both the desirability and the likelihood of a change in leadership of the PNP.

“Uncertainty can be debilitating for a political movement, and an undeclared campaign is already starting to develop in social media and amongst party members. For good order and transparency, it is best that this speculation be put to rest as soon as possible,” Bunting said, adding that there is “growing acceptance/resignation in the general public and amongst various stakeholder groups — including party membership and supporters, civil society, and private sector leadership — that the PNP under Dr Peter Phillips's leadership cannot defeat the JLP in a general election”.

He has since dubbed his campaign 'Rise United'.

Dr Phillips, in a Twitter post last week, urged Comrades to focus on defeating the governing Jamaica Labour Party and not each other.

He said party support for him throughout the last two years has been invaluable and served as his source of strength and inspiration.

He said the PNP was founded and rooted in the principles of democracy to give all Jamaicans an avenue to make their voices heard, and an opportunity to serve at all levels.

“As we proceed to test our party's internal democratic pillars we must concentrate our efforts, energies and resources to defeating the JLP, not each other,” he said.

His campaign has been dubbed 'One PNP — Powerful Together'.

Natalie Neita-Headley, Lisa Hanna, Damion Crawford, Donna Scott Mottley, Mikael Phillips, Norman Scott, Phillip Paulwell, and Wykeham McNeill have so far declared their support for Phillips, while Mark Golding, Michael Stewart, Dr Dayton Campbell, Donovan Mitchell, and Ian Hayles have so far declared for Bunting.

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