And now, to battle! - Phillips, Bunting square off

in PNP leadership contest today

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, September 07, 2019

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One of the most contentious periods in the history of the People's National Party (PNP) will reach a high point today when delegates vote for the person to lead the Opposition party into its 81st anniversary celebration.

However, what happens after today's vote will set the tone for the healing process in the PNP as, since Peter Bunting officially announced his challenge to Dr Peter Phillips for the party's top job, mudslinging, personal attacks and nasty comments have caused a schism that could prove hard to close no matter who is announced as the winner.

Phillips has been the man at the helm of the party since 2017 when he was elected unopposed to replace Portia Simpson Miller, who had retired from active politics. But now, he faces the battle of his political life.

Phillips is seen as a safe pair of hands with a track record of performance, having worked creditably in a number of party positions and government ministries, most recently at the Ministry of Finance where he steered the ship of state through turbulent waters following the PNP's victory in the 2011 General Election.

As finance minister Phillips crafted a deal with the International Monetary Fund, after the previous deal with the Jamaica Labour Party Administration had collapsed, and moved the economy to a path which several analysts have admitted was the best Jamaica had embarked on for decades.

But it is as opposition leader that his critics say he has failed. They charge as Bunting did when he announced his challenge that Phillips “has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party and is just not seen as the right person for this time”.

But Phillips has rejected this charge, arguing that he has brought renewal to the party's leadership with new officers and regional chairpersons, while reinvigorating the youth organisation and modernising the PNP.

“I have strengthened our opposition parliamentary activism in the Senate and the House of Representatives to defend and protect the interests of the Jamaican people against a JLP Administration executing a programme of corruption that has never before been witnessed in our modern political history,” declared Phillips at a media briefing on Wednesday.

He also fired back at his critics who, he claimed, have been leading an orchestrated effort against him since he was appointed in 2017.

But Bunting, an investment banker and former party general secretary who holds the Manchester Central constituency, has scoffed at those claims as he argued that any objective analysis, “using either quantitative or qualitative approaches, will show that there has been further decline in the PNP's electoral competitiveness since 2016”.

Pointing to poll data, Bunting further charged that there is a growing acceptance or resignation in the public domain, including party members and supporters, that the PNP under Phillips cannot defeat the JLP in a general election.

After almost three months on the campaign trail both sides go into today's election boasting that they have managed to convince the majority of the almost 3,000 delegates that their candidate is the right one to lead the party to victory in the next general election and will emerge as president when the final vote is announced sometime after six this evening.

“Our team has all the winning elements vibrancy, experience, energy and maturity to capture the imagination of the Jamaican people, many of whom have been following the activities of the team, and the message, very carefully.

“We have connected with the delegates and the Jamaican people in general through the length and breadth of this country,” said Phillips, whose team has dubbed itself OnePNP.

His campaign manager Natalie Neita was also brimming with confidence at the OnePNP final media briefing on Wednesday.

“We are confident we have the majority of the delegates going into Saturday. I want to thank them, on behalf of the leader, and the great movement we are a part of, for understanding and recognising the importance of this decision, come Saturday,” added Neita.

But Bunting and the leadership of his Rise United team have scoffed at this claim.

“We have walked the humble road. We have sought the support, first, of the delegates; we have engaged them in their communities, in their groups, and in classrooms. Their leaders have come along because of the overwhelming demands by their delegates that they support us,” Bunting told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“We sought to give the delegates a voice. We have listened to them and ordered our campaign in response to their needs and their opinions. That is why, for example, we are developing the endowment fund. We have sought to give them the movement they have ordered. We believe in them and as a result they believe in us. Our victory will be the people's victory,” added Bunting.

While also projecting a Bunting victory, the outspoken Rise United campaign manager Dr Dayton Campbell said today's outcome will depend on the work on the ground.

“OnePNP can do nothing to stop or disrupt the delegates who intend to vote for Rise United. They simply do not have the forces on the ground. The ground is against them at odds of four to one. We are leaving nothing to chance; we giving it our best effort and we expect to succeed,” he said.

The polls open at 10:00 this morning and close at 4:00 pm with the Electoral Office of Jamaica conducting the election. The country should know the choice of the delegates some two hours after the polls close.


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