Jamaica’s People’s National Party (PNP) will have a leadership race as Peter Bunting has confirmed his intentions to challenge current leader, Peter Phillips.
In his statement Bunting remarked
“Dr Phillips has made an outstanding contribution to the party and the country in the various positions in which he has served over the past three decades.
However, since becoming [PNP] president, he has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party and is just not seen as the right person for this time, Therefore, I confirm that I am offering myself for president of the People’s National Party at the annual conference in September,”
Challenge is Necessary
Since Phillips permanently succeeded Portia Simpson-Miller as PNP leader in 2017 he has flattered to deceive and the party has slipped badly in the polls behind the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
The JLP government has been blighted by numerous corruption scandals and their ineptness at reducing violent crime and improving the public health service has been quite stark. Yet Phillips has not displayed the leadership to hold the government to account. It has been left to PNP figures such as Fitz Jackson, Lambert Brown, Mikael Phillips, Mark Golding and Donna Scott-Mottley to successfully take the fight to the government.
Lately, Bunting had been giving subtle hints of his intentions to challenge Phillips.
- He has been more vocal in parliament in attacking the government over policy and corruption.
- He recently broke ranks with parliamentary colleagues to oppose the recent extension of a State of Emergency in St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.
- He is an active member of various parliamentary select committees especially the Public Account Committee (PAC).
- He has stepped up his accessibility on social media and made regular appearances on the popular radio talk shows.
Mark Golding, the PNP’s official spokesman on finance, has quickly come out to support Bunting. So too colleagues Dayton Campbell, Ian Hayles, Luther Buchanan and Michael Stewart. Senior PNP members such as Lisa Hanna, K.D. Knight and Phillip Paulwell have endorsed Phillips.
In Golding’s statement he writes” Dr Phillips is my friend and made a tremendous contribution to our Party and country. However, all indications are that Dr Phillips cannot lead our Party to victory in a general election.“
Golding’s support of Bunting is to be expected. They have been successful business partners going back decades and currently are part of the management team at Proven Investments Limited.
Bunting’s challenge has to be welcomed as Phillips has so far delivered a lukewarm performance as leader of the opposition and has not captured the imagination of the public.
Is Bunting the right man to win the general elections for the PNP?
I have spoken to quite a few PNP die hard supporters over the past 3 years regarding the vacuum of leadership in its ranks. All felt that Phillips was the wrong leader from very outset. Some have never forgiven him for his attitude towards then leader Simpson-Miller. But when the conversation turned to Bunting as a potential successor all quickly gave him the thumbs down.
But this leadership race will give Bunting the chance to present his ideas and personality to the delegates. Bunting is smart cookie and given his background in business it will be interesting to see how he projects himself during the campaign. Especially when it eventually gets heated.
Will other members of the PNP join the leadership race?
For the PNP’s sake I hope so. The Peter vs Peter race needs at least a 3rd strong opponent.
The most improved member of the PNP in parliament has been Lisa Hanna. Her recent speech during in the sectoral debate was a watershed moment in her career. It was the speech of a future leader, full of ideas and policies. But she is in the Phillips camp. So far.
In a 2016 Jamaica Observer online poll on who should succeed then leader Simpson-Miller, Phillips (32%) came out first followed closely by Hanna (29%) and Bunting (27%).
Whoever the next PNP leader is, Hanna and Damion Crawford will have to be central to the election campaign to appeal to younger voters and those who stayed away from the ballot box; given that 53% of the electorate did not vote in the 2016 general election.
Even though Bunting has the support of Mark Golding I find the latter a more viable candidate for the leadership. He is a top class parliamentarian and runs the powerful Public Accounts Committee effectively. He comes across as composed and uncomplicated.
What goes around…
Some Phillips supporters are angry at Bunting’s challenge for the party’s top job. But political amnesia is at work.
In September 2008 Phillips was so unimpressed with Simpson-Miller’s leadership that he challenged her for the top job and came second; with Simpson Miller receiving 2,332 votes compared to Phillips’ 1,959.
Earlier in July 2008 Phillips felt Simpson-Miller’s leadership was a disaster and if she became PM again then it could lead to the Haitianization of Jamaica and Jamaican politics. Phillips also felt that the idea of him being part of a Simpson-Miller cabinet would be too distasteful to consider.
[Phillips did go on to serve in the Simpson-Miller cabinet (2012-2016) as finance minister and steadied the economy that earned plaudits from key local and international stakeholders.]
It is worth noting that in a June 2008 opinion poll then PNP leader Simpson-Miller had a 52% positive rating, Phillips did challenge her.
In a recent March opinion poll Phillip’s positive rating stood at 12%. If PNP supporters does not believe Phillip’s poor poll numbers does not warrant a leadership challenge, then they are either in denial or too worried about their careers to speak out.
Let us not forget that Phillips was the campaign director of the PNP’s dire 2016 general election race where the party lost 11 seats and power.
This is No Longer Seaga’s JLP
The PNP must realise that the current JLP machinery is a formidable juggernaut. This is not the late Edward Seaga’s JLP of the previous 2 decades, when losing general elections became an occupational hazard.
Since Seaga retired as leader in 2005, the JLP has won 2 of the last 3 general elections. The party has a solid campaign machine aided by a team of articulate supporters well positioned to deliver the party’s message and positive image. Crucially the JLP is backed up by big money.
Whoever the next PNP leader is must have the appeal and connections to attract funds from big donors.
In the post 2016 election review, PNP treasurer Norman Horne called-out several senior PNP members for not passing over to the party millions of dollars they collected in during the election campaign – PNP Campaign Scandal – Jamaica Observer August 2016
Since the 2016 election it has been very clear to onlookers that the PNP’s finance has diminished drastically. Just look at poorly funded campaigns the party ran during the 2017 local government election and in some by-elections where there were hardly any PNP advertisements placed in the media.
Thus the Phillips supporters should not be too hard on Bunting as the party is currently enjoying the kind of publicity that they can ill afford to pay the media.
Winning Is All that Matters
It is early days into the leadership race and Phillips is the undoubtedly the clear favourite to win.
The leadership race could be what Phillips needs to really impress on the electorate that he is ready to be Jamaica’s next prime minister. This leadership race will certainly give the PNP much needed positive press coverage. Take this past week for example.
For the first time in years the PNP has constantly made the headlines ever since Bunting made his announcement. The leadership race has even overshadowed media coverage of the plans for the funeral of former PM Edward Seaga.
It would be wise for the members/delegates to hear the candidates’ plans to improve to political and financial fortunes of the party before jumping to conclusions.
The key issues I would like to hear from the PNP contenders will be their strategies for the economy, education, health, transport and housing? What are their plans to reduce violent crime, stamp out corruption, convict grafters and remove politics from pubic sector boards?
Interesting times ahead.