'No vacancy'

Dr Peter Phillips's supporters pledge to resist move to unseat him as PNP leader

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

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A group of no more than 50 supporters of People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips gathered on the grounds of the party's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters last evening to demonstrate their disapproval of calls for the leader to give up the coveted position.

The supporters, clad in orange shirts, some of which bore the image of Phillips, insisted that any challenge to their leader, following the party's defeat in the Portland Eastern by-election last week, would be met with strong resistance.

Several of them hoisted placards declaring their loyalty to Phillips, who has, since 2017, lost three of five by-elections as head of the party.

Political commentators ahead of last Thursday's polls — which saw PNP Vice-President Damion Crawford losing to the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Ann-Marie Vaz — declared that the results would determine the tide of Phillips's future.

Yesterday, PNP executives filled the party's meeting room, with those on the outside speculating that Phillips was at the centre of discussions.

The party president was a no-show at the weekly Monday meeting, though a bus waited metres away from the compound, having transported his supporters.

“Yuh wrong fi trouble Peter, yuh wrong! Yuh wrong fi trouble Peter, yuh wrong! 'Cause Peter is a lion and a lion will devour you! Yuh wrong fi trouble Peter, yuh wrong!” his supporters chanted yesterday.

The action bore likeness to the months following the party's 2016 defeat in the General Election, when several, including party members, called for then leader Portia Simpson Miller to step aside.

Several protestors, who identified themselves as delegates, declared that they will cease voting if Phillips steps down.

“We are here to support wi leader. Why should he get a fight? There's no reason fi him get a fight. He's not going to resign. Who [are] they going to put there? A di right man to lead. Wi nuh have nuh better person right now, at this time, to lead. Dr Phillips is the right leader; there is no other leader,” a man, who said he lives in Phillips's constituency but asked not to be identified, said.

Others, too, questioned the validity of calls for Phillips's head, and agreed that there was no other person capable of leading the 78-year-old party.

“I know Mr Phillips from 1992. He was the general secretary from 1992 until he go to East Central [St Andrew]. Let me tell you, man, [he's] one of the best. The first place he went and work is health. The second place him go and work is Ministry of Labour. The third place him go, he was minister of security, and the fourth place, minister of finance. So he went and he was so good he get all prize for it. So why is it now that them want him move?” a female supporter said.

She insisted that Phillips was not the reason the party failed to retain its 30-year safe seat, and argued that east Portlanders were not loyal, alleging that many sold their votes.

“People must remember when they don't have anything they run to him. So what is the reason them want to put him out? Him going [to] stay in here. Mi old enuh, but mi still a support him 'cause mi nuh see nobody else fi support inna this. Anytime him gone, mi gone,” she added.

In the meantime, others declared that there was no vacancy for the top post, which Phillips had vied for twice, previously, but lost.

One placard read just that, while others said: 'One leader'.

Only a few of the party's executive members acknowledged the crowd, while noting that it was the “usual Monday night gathering”.

PNP Senator Donna Scott Mottley told journalists that there was nothing to write home about, reiterating the point that supporters gather every Monday to see their members of Parliament.

But there are those who believe that the party will have to bleed before it can become whole again.

A source close to party activities told the Jamaica Observer by telephone late yesterday that Phillips's days are numbered.

“Him not going to be allowed to continue. Him not attractive to young people and many believe him should retire. Him son will support him because that is where him loyalty is. Him might get backing from man like Fitz [Jackson] and Fenton [Ferguson], but that is it,” the source, who asked not to be identified, said.

“You look out over the next couple of months. The horses lining up and Phillips won't be at the gate. Remember this day,” the source added.

Former PNP General Secretary Paul Burke chided members of the party in an e-mail sent to the National Executive Council (NEC), stating that its members have become complacent about the work required to ensure the success of the party.

Burke also said that some have resorted to throwing Phillips under the bus when he was not to be blamed for the party's flop at the polls.

Burke, in a post by-election analysis of the PNP's loss in Portland Eastern, told the party's NEC that several spent extended time questioning Phillips's leadership skills and his winnability instead of lending support.

He said Comrades have openly, without reason, expressed doubt about Phillips when the narrative should have been how they could help the party.

He said Simpson Miller's popularity had overshadowed the lack of political groundwork — an issue she had spoken at length about.

According to Burke, the party's current president is not to be blamed though he has a popularity issue.

“The bigger problem is that the vehicle that he is driving, which all of us are a part of, has old and faulty tyres, defective braking, faulty steering, poor shock absorbers, weak battery, low fuel, and only one or two cylinders firing. A brand-new paint job or changing the driver/leader will not fix the problem,” said Burke.

The PNP's loss last Thursday puts it at 29 seats to the JLP's 34 in the House of Representatives.


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