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CRUCIAL TALKS

Phillips, Bunting to meet as PNP infighting intensifies in the aftermath of presidential battle

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Following the bitter battle for the top job in the People's National Party (PNP), Dr Peter Phillips, who retained the presidency by a narrow margin, is to meet his challenger Peter Bunting today for what party sources say are key conciliatory talks.

“The two will have to emerge from the meeting with a clear signal that they are prepared to work together in the interest of the party,” one senior PNP member who quietly supported Phillips but took no active part in the campaign, told the Jamaica Observer.

“The mood right now is that the losers are hurting and it will take the two big men to end the fighting in the party and let us get back to the real work of getting rid of this JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) Government. People will be hurting and only Phillips and Bunting, by their actions, can start the healing process.

“As soon as the results were announced I went into the Rise camp and hugged some of their supporters because I know that the unity must spread,” added the senior Comrade, who wants someone like former Prime Minister PJ Patterson or Burchell Whiteman involved in the talks between the two Peters.

Phillips polled 1,427 votes on Saturday to edge Bunting by 76 votes, as more than 90 per cent of delegates made it to the ballot boxes in one of the closest leadership elections in Jamaica's political history.

Since then, there have been clear signs that despite the election being over, the rift in the party is far from being mended. In fact, it could be getting wider.

Late yesterday it was confirmed that at least five senior members of the defeated Rise United team its leader Bunting, campaign manager Dr Dayton Campbell, Mark Golding, Ian Hayles and Angela Brown Burke had offered their resignation from the party's shadow cabinet

Bunting is the Opposition PNP's spokesman on industry, investment and competitiveness; Campbell is the spokesman on health, while Hayles speaks on water and climate change.

Other key Bunting backers in the shadow cabinet including Ronald Thwaites, education and training; and Dr Fenton Ferguson, agriculture and rural development, were also expected to offer their resignation, although Thwaites, in a radio interview, said he saw no reason to do so.

Phillips has since asked members of the shadow cabinet to remain in their assigned portfolios.

“Following my re-election as president of the People's National Party last Saturday, a number of members of the shadow cabinet, consistent with tradition, have tendered their resignation as shadow ministers,” said Phillips in a release.

“At a meeting of the party's National Executive Council in April this year I had indicated that I would be reorganising the shadow cabinet after the end of the Parliamentary Sectoral Debate.

“The internal presidential election intervened and I considered it prudent to postpone that exercise. I now intend to undertake the shadow cabinet reorganisation after the conclusion of the party's annual conference on September 22. Until then, I have asked all shadow ministers [to] remain in place and continue to monitor their assigned portfolio,” added Phillips.

But the party president's statement on the shadow cabinet did nothing to lessen the tension among Comrades.

Placards were placed at the office of Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Eastern Colin Fagan yesterday, allegedly by Comrades wanting him out because he backed Bunting.

This prompted a swift response from the PNP's secretariat which condemned the move and called on “all supporters and members to unite and desist from any actions that may bring the party into disrepute”.

But that did not slow down the mudslinging on social media which has been a battleground for supporters of the OnePNP team, which backed Phillips, and Bunting's supporters.

“Peter Bunting, you didn't lose anything, the PNP is the big loser. I will always be a Comrade but will never work or vote for Phillips,” one Rise United supporter posted on Facebook, sparking a flood of comments.

But other Comrades were more measured in their comments as they appealed for an end to the quarrel.

“Like every other contest the winners have a right to celebrate. I personally don't begrudge your victory. I wish we had won. With that said, 76 votes separating the incumbent from the challenger can hardly be considered resounding.

“Walk humbly, let's work to unify the party … be magnanimous in your victory as we strive to be accommodative in our loss,” declared one Comrade in his Facebook post as he urged his colleagues to keep their eyes on the prize of defeating the Jamaica Labour Party.