BY GARFIELD MYERS Edititor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau email@example.com
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Chairman of the ruling People's National Party (PNP) Region Five, Senator Wensworth Skeffery, says he will be making himself available to represent the party in South Manchester "whenever a vacancy arises".
News reports say that at a recent public meeting in Porus, south Manchester, incumbent Member of Parliament Michael Peart reiterated his intention to walk away from competitive politics prior to the next election.
Peart, Speaker of the House of Representatives, reportedly named his constituency chairman, educator Michael Stewart, as his preferred PNP candidate for the constituency.
However, Skeffery who succeeded Peart as chairman of Region Five (St Elizabeth and Manchester) five years ago, told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday that Peart's public endorsement of Stewart would not deter him.
"I am a son of the soil in south Manchester, born and raised in Cross Keys, and it has always been my passion to lead that constituency," said Skeffery, who was earlier returned unopposed as Region Five chairman.
Skeffery said that although Peart's endorsement of Stewart could be misconstrued by the general public, that was not the way the PNP chose its candidates. "I want to say to the persons on the ground that the PNP is a democratic party with clear principles, guidelines and procedures as to how a candidate is selected; persons are free to endorse whoever they want to endorse, but that doesn't mean anything," said Skeffery.
"Whenever the party indicates that it is time to look to the future for 2016, I will engage the delegates and the wider cross section of persons, comrades and general citizens of south Manchester. And if they believe that I am good enough then I will determine how I proceed, but my interest remains unwavering, because south Manchester is my passion," said Skeffery.
He suggested that the MP's public support of Stewart was largely the result of "personal" feelings dating back to 2006 when Skeffery failed in a bid to unseat Peart as Region Five chairman.
"I challenged him in 2006, and he is carrying that probably to his grave...," alleged the 40-year-old Skeffery. "I want to say the interest of south Manchester [is] bigger than personal differences between Comrade Peart and myself. If that is what we going to use to define the leadership of south Manchester then it is sad," he said.
Skeffery argued that when the "time comes" there should be open and honest debate among those candidates wishing to replace Peart as the PNP's standard bearer in south Manchester
"I am willing to have a debate in every major community of south Manchester. I want (opponents) to engage me in a public debate as to their strategies, their programmes, [and] their policies to transform the constituency, and let the people decide," he said.
In 2010, Skeffery lost to Basil Waite in a bid to represent the party in North East St Elizabeth. The PNP's hierarchy later replaced Waite with current MP Raymond Pryce.