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The task for the PNP now

Monday, September 09, 2019

Back in April when the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) lost Portland Eastern, a former stronghold, this newspaper was among those urging party leader Dr Peter Phillips to speedily prepare the way for a successor.

We said then, in this space: “Dr Phillips needs to move swiftly to roll the wicket for an orderly succession contest. The PNP has a glorious history of reinventing and revitalising itself. The task now is to find and unite behind a leader who can guide the fashioning of a vision to capture the imagination of the electorate the majority of whom are under 40 and many, if not most of whom, hold no strong party loyalties. The quicker they (PNP) can get to it, the better for party and country.”

After Saturday's delegates' selection victory over Mr Peter Bunting, Dr Phillips will obviously feel vindicated.

There can be no argument now. The PNP must unite behind Dr Phillips for the next parliamentary election, which is constitutionally due in 2021, but which could be called by Prime Minister Andrew Holness before then.

Dr Phillips, an extremely able, experienced politician, public servant and social scientist needs no one to lecture him about the need for party unity; hence his immediate call after news of his triumph for the party to “rise” as “one PNP” under one leader.

We note that Mr Bunting struck all the right notes, applauding Dr Phillips for his victory and indicating that he (Bunting) is available to continue to serve the PNP.

The next few days and weeks will be crucial as Dr Phillips, Mr Bunting, party General Secretary Mr Julian Robinson, et al, move to heal wounds and restore unity.

For while Mr Bunting claims that his challenge has energised the base of the party, there can be no doubt that it has also left ugly, open wounds by some of the harsh things said in this leadership campaign.

The temptation for vengeance must be resisted. Dr Phillips and his supporters will do well to follow the example of Mr P J Patterson who mostly embraced opponents following a tough contest with Mrs Portia Simpson Miller in 1992.

As part of the healing process, it will be critical that Dr Phillips and his team critically analyse the results of the delegates' selection.

To begin with, the margin of victory was thin, at best. It's clear that close to half of the party's delegates bought into the argument that Dr Phillips, despite his admirable record in various Cabinet posts including as minister of finance, is unelectable as leader of the PNP.

Also, at 69 years old, Dr Phillips's age is an elephant in the room which many of his supporters choose to ignore. They need to face it and develop a workable strategy in the context of a prime minister who is still only 47, and an electorate, the majority of whom are even younger.

In the aftermath of Saturday's selection, one thoughtful Phillips supporter pointed to the slickness of the Bunting campaign as something the party should be seeking to embrace entering parliamentary elections.

All these factors, and much more, victor and vanquished, PNP together, must address and deal with if that party is to successfully challenge the JLP come general election time.

At bottom line, Jamaica needs a strong, viable PNP.