More PNP turmoil

More PNP turmoil

'Rebel' councillor rejects Opposition decision not to hold twin elections

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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FIREBRAND People's National Party (PNP) Councillor Venesha Phillips yesterday broke ranks with the Opposition party, rejecting its decision to hold separate elections for party president and vice-presidents, arguing that the move only serves to further rip the 82-year-old organisation apart.

Phillips has also taken issue with the party's decision to hold a leadership election so soon after its embarrassing 14-49 defeat to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the September 3 General Election, especially with local government elections constitutionally due around the same time as the party's November 7 internal poll.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer following a bust-up on Sunday with other members of the party's second-highest decision-making body — the National Executive Council (NEC) — the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation representative for the Papine Division said the decision was made by self-serving members with agendas.

Referring to 2016 when the party held the presidential and vice-presidential elections simultaneously, Phillips said it was hypocritical of members to now object to the twin elections.

She was making the point on the floor during the NEC meeting held at the Jamaica Conference Centre when she was allegedly verbally insulted by other members.

A confrontation ensued before Phillips walked away from the meeting.

“My contention, simply, on the floor, was why is there this mad-bull rush towards an internal election three-and-a-half weeks out of an election that just caused us nothing but pain?

“Mark Golding was campaign manager and co-conceptualised the Rise United campaign that many blamed for where we are right now. Lisa [Hanna] supported Dr [Peter] Phillips in the OnePNP campaign and would herself have been the subject of significant battering [and] debasing as a consequence by supporters of the Rise campaign, and vice versa.

“And so I was simply saying, 'Hold on, Comrades, we nuh need fi rush. Yes, Dr Phillips has signalled his intentions to go as president; let us just hold out a little bit. Tell party leader that he needs to hold on while we prepare for local government elections and we sort ourselves out, and when we get to that point, let us do the two things at once. Make wi bawl one time and then start the healing,” she said.

Golding and Hanna have signalled their intentions to run for president of the party when Dr Phillips departs.

However, outgoing general secretary of the party, Julian Robinson, told the Observer during a virtual press conference yesterday that the decision was taken to hold separate elections because there is an urgent need to fill the clear vacancy that will arise based on Dr Phillips's intention to resign.

“That was the number one priority to deal with at this immediate time, and as the chairman said, we will review what we do in January to determine how we deal with the rest of the business, but we felt that the priority was to settle the issue of the presidency right away,” said Robinson, who is expected to give up the post at the next meeting of the NEC.

Phillips is contending, though, that separating the internal elections will deepen wounds opened from as far back as 2006, she said, in the contest largely between Dr Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller.

She said a new PNP leader will likely put up his or her allies for the posts of vice-presidents, continuing a vicious cycle.

Only a year ago the party went through a bruising leadership challenge between Rise United boss Peter Bunting and OnePNP's Dr Phillips. However, Bunting's challenge to Dr Phillips's presidency fizzled, further dividing the party.

“The whole bitter rivalry will start all over again and send us back down a path that would see Andrew Holness daring to suggest that Jamaica must give him a third term. This is a painful thing, just to think about us going down this road again. I don't want to hear from old-timers, who I love and respect, to talk about, 'We have been here before'. It does not matter. We do not have to repeat it. This is not a cycle; we're not trying to get back to those places that we have been,” said Phillips.

“How is it that we are thinking to put in a new leader before we even understand how we lost the election? We are 43 constituencies down, all within a 2,000 margin. It nuh matter what we going to say the JLP contrive, what is our role in that as candidates and as leaders?” she questioned.

She said that it was not okay to chalk up the party's loss to Dr Phillips being an unpopular leader, noting that after the national leadership debate Dr Phillips' popularity increased. She said, had the party closed ranks around the PNP president, done the proper marketing, and even appeared united, the outcome would have been significantly different.

“The fact is, it is our infighting that got us where we are, but some of the players today... going [to] support [a candidate or] themselves would have been part and parcel of that. So can they, in all honesty, reunite the PNP?

“I am prepared to take the battering that will come after this. They will say I'm washing the party's linen in public. No, I am not. The PNP is supposed to be a party with the potential to attract persons and to grow. Sometimes, your messenger affects your message, and that is true. I am a rebel; I accept that, but the fact is it is not a causeless mission or a reckless mission. It is one to say, 'Break a moment and let's listen'.

“So this is not rabble-rousing. This is to stimulate a conversation that needs to be had, but people with personal agendas don't want it to be had and they must be called out for that. The movement demands that. It is wrong for us to inherit something so sacred and destroy it for personal ambition,” she argued.

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