Back to the battleground

Back to the battleground

PNP returns to the scene of 2006 presidential race to elect new chairman and general secretary

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

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IN 2006 the Old Hope Road, St Andrew campus of Jamaica College (JC) was the stage for the end of one of the most bitter battles in the history of the People's National Party (PNP)'s — the race to replace PJ Patterson as president.

That contest — in which Portia Simpson Miller defeated Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, and Dr Karl Blythe to become the first woman president of the PNP — left the party with gaping wounds which some say are yet to properly heal.

In the 14 years since that February afternoon the PNP has stumbled from one internal conflict to another, despite the application of several band-aids.

Today, the Comrades return to JC, this time for a meeting of its National Executive Council (NEC), the party's highest decision-making body after its annual conference, with the posts of chairman and general secretary up for grabs.

In the 2006 contest 3,903 delegates were eligible to vote in an election conducted by the Electoral Office of Jamaica. This time around it is the 326 NEC members who will be eligible to vote in an election to be conducted by the party's secretariat.

Again, the battle lines have been drawn, although the campaign rhetoric has not been as vitriolic and nasty as it was in 2006.

As it was in 2006 a woman could create PNP history, as Angela Brown Burke enters today's contest seeking to become the first woman to hold the post of chairman of the party.

Brown Burke, who has the backing of recently elected President Mark Golding, will face her one-time east Kingston sparring partner Phillip Paulwell, a sitting vice-president of the party, who would be making a step down in its chain of command if he is elected chairman.

Paulwell, who led the party's powerful Region Three for many years, would normally start as the favourite in this race, but with Brown Burke enjoying the endorsement of Golding, along with the machinery, which she led as his campaign director in his successful bid to become the party's president, picking a winner is not an easy task.

An equally unpredictable race is looming for the right to replace Julian Robinson as the party's general secretary.

Dr Dayton Campbell, who has the backing of Golding; former Deputy General Secretary Raymond Pryce; and attorney-at-law Jennifer Housen are the ones who have thrown their hats in the ring, with all three claiming they are who the party needs as it tries to rebuild following its crushing 14-49-seat defeat to the Jamaica Labour Party in the September 3 General Election.

Golding, who went public with his endorsement of Campbell, has indicated that he is willing to accept any decision of the NEC members, but it is clear that he wants the man who served as his campaign director in the position of what is essentially the chief operating officer of the PNP.

Campbell has rejected claims that he is being endorsed by Golding because he supported his bid for the party's top job.

“I don't believe for a second that Comrade Golding is only thinking about loyalty in thinking about the position. It is a critical position in the party,” Campbell told the Jamaica Observer recently.

“I think, being an intellectual individual he has considered all of the variables. He knows my work ethic; I managed his campaign, I managed another campaign last year. They've seen the energy, they have seen me in group meetings in the constituency, they know that I am somebody who possesses the organisational skills, the strategic skills,” added Campbell.

His reference to “another campaign” was that of Peter Bunting's unsuccessful challenge to then PNP President Dr Peter Phillips for the top job in September 2019.

In the meantime, Housen, who entered a surprise bid for the general secretary post, has had to fend off claims that she is just in the race to split votes.

“There is a rebuilding and reuniting process that must be engaged and which requires a general secretary seized with tenacity, administration, organisation, empathy, conflict/dispute resolution skills and an enthusiastic need to serve the party and support the Comrade leader,” declared Housen in a recent social media post.

But the person expected to present the most challenge to Campbell is Pryce, who has served in the secretariat in the past and who has the backing of many of the supporters of Lisa Hanna who was defeated by Golding for the party's top job.

According to Pryce, he is best positioned to effectively support the new party president and the wider organisation in order to rekindle the synergy and enthusiasm among those critical civil society groupings which were once associated with the national progressive movement.

Pryce has argued that the fortunes of the PNP are rooted in its ability to reignite the meaningful coalition of progressive forces which helped to modernise Jamaica.

He said he would bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the post, having served the party at several levels including regional secretary for its Region Four political organisation and as director of operations in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition during the Simpson Miller's tenure.

It is expected that the results of the elections will be available shortly after 3:00 pm.


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