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Triumphant Phillips eases past Bunting, calls for peace and unity in PNP

Executive editor — publications

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Dr Peter Phillips yesterday defended a challenge to his presidency of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and in the process handed Peter Bunting a birthday beating that left the Manchester Central Member of Parliament's supporters fuming.

But Phillips, who won the presidential election by 76 votes (1,427 to 1,351 seven votes were spoilt), immediately offered an olive branch to Bunting, who marked his 59th birthday yesterday, and his Rise United team in an obvious attempt to start the healing process after a bruising campaign.

“If the Comrades from the other side can hear me, I am issuing an invitation to all the Comrades, including the leadership, including the candidate, come over, let's celebrate as one party,” Phillips said from the huge stage mounted in the car park at the northern side of the National Arena in St Andrew where his OnePNP team had set up their camp.

But while the invitation received loud cheers of approval from the PNP president's supporters, it did not pull many of Bunting's followers from his Rise United base in the opposite car park, about 100 metres away.

“This is not a time to celebrate and to leave out the others in the party. We must come together, we must work together, but we must work together as one, and we must work together with discipline and manners toward each other,” Phillips said in a short victory address.

“Tonight is a night to celebrate the People's National Party and what it means to us. It is a time to celebrate our philosophy, which puts people first. It is a night to celebrate the people who are the People's National Party. It is a time for us to remember that while we are a people's party we put the interest of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed first; never let us forget our democratic socialist traditions in the People's National Party,” Phillips said.

That charge received resounding applause and howls of appreciation as the party's philosophy of democratic socialism was one of the central issues in the campaign after Bunting was reported as saying that he thought it was not relevant.

After thanking all the people who worked on his campaign, as well as the delegates who voted for him, Phillips told them that yesterday's election was “a bump in the road” as the party's mission is to return to State power.

“Jamaica can't tek no more of this Jamaica Labour Party [Government]. Our mission is to come together and to proceed with the task of organisation, present our case, present our policies and let us put an end to the Jamaica Labour Party Government that has left us with more crime, with more corruption, with more poverty, with more difficulty in our lives because of poor social services,” Phillips said.

Later, as Phillips sought to relax in his tent set up behind the stage, the Jamaica Observer asked him if he was surprised by the margin of victory.

“I am happy to have won,” he responded, and again thanked everyone who helped him secure the victory.

Asked how he intended to go about uniting the party after such a divisive campaign, Phillips said: “The first thing we're going to do is sit down, take stock and move forward, because it's been a long, gruelling campaign. We will find the best way to organise ourselves for the main task of taking control of the Government of Jamaica so that we can continue the progress and the opportunities for progress that have been lost under this JLP Administration.”

Earlier, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson, in announcing the results, said there was a 96 per cent voter turnout.

He told the Sunday Observer that he thought the day went well. “Obviously there is [good] support for both candidates, and it means we have to work closely together as we try to bring back everybody and unite as one party moving forward,” Robinson said.

A similar view was expressed earlier in the day by St Thomas Eastern Member of Parliament Dr Fenton Ferguson whose support for Bunting in the contest delivered a body blow to Phillips and his team.

“Our challenge must be, at the end of today, the ability of the party to reunite and prepare ourselves for victory,” Ferguson told the Sunday Observer just before casting his vote.

Asked how he would contribute to the healing process if Bunting lost, Ferguson, said: “I would want to put it, when my candidate wins, how will the others function, but I'm a party man, I'm a patriot, and therefore nothing can stop me from doing the work of the People's National Party.”

During the day, Annmarie Baker, a delegate from the St Andrew South Eastern constituency, said her support for Bunting was vindicated by a Don Anderson poll released by the Rise United team which showed that Bunting would make a better leader of the party.

“We, the delegates, have an obligation to adhere to the wishes of the people because it's not only PNP delegates who will put Mr Bunting as prime minister of Jamaica at the next election,” Baker argued. “So we want the delegates to take responsibility for the country. It's not only about Peter Phillips, it's about the next general election.”