Peter Bunting: The riser and uniter in chief

Peter Bunting: The riser and uniter in chief

BY Rayon Walters

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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The post-mortem of the 2007 General Election loss by the People's National Party (PNP) shows that, despite the love, affinity, and national popularity for then prime minister and party President Portia Simpson Miller, the PNP was unsuccessful by a razor-thin margin. This loss is primarily attributed to factions from the 'Solid As A Rock' campaign, including parliamentary supporters who refused to participate in the reunification of the PNP with Portia Simpson Miller as party leader.

The PNP's message not to change the course, fell flat, and seemed too arrogant. Its decision to reuse campaign material from the P J Patterson-led general election victory in 2002 was unexciting. The electorate wanted newness to consider. These actions created a self-inflicted derailment to the PNP's 18-year reign as Government and led to a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) victory on September 3, 2007 and on December 5, 2007 in local government elections.

In January 2008, in came Peter Bunting as general secretary. He immediately paved a route towards political restoration and relevance. This necessary course-change was sidetracked by Dr Peter Phillips mounting another challenge to Portia Simpson Miller. Again, delegates rejected him — and by a wider margin. So bruising it was, he did not bother to attend the public session of conference. Following this defeat, he refused to participate as a spokesperson in the council selected by Simpson Miller. It was from the back benches he defended himself when news broke of a secret memorandum of understanding signed by him with the US Government.

Contrastingly, Bunting was front and centre with Portia Simpson Miller, chiding the JLP for the poor handling of the extradition request for Christopher “Dudus” Coke. It was his astute leadership that spearheaded the vetting and selection of winnable candidates. He spent at least 12 hours per day at party headquarters devoted to implementing the necessary party reforms to meet our primary objective as a Government-in-waiting. These reforms were done during a period in which many of those who are against his challenge were in the comfort of their homes. The hard work of the secretariat led by him resulted in a stinting landslide defeat of the ruling JLP in December 2011, which created the first-ever one-term Government. The continued works of the secretariat also led to the all-island parish council, municipality, and the Kingston and St Andrew Cooperation victory for the PNP.

In January 2014 he resigned as general secretary, primarily due to his constituency and ministerial obligations. Consequently, he was not directly involved in preparing the ground for future elections — as is the role of a general secretary.

In 2015, the PNP was caught flat-footed when Dr Peter Philips, as national campaign director, prematurely announced that there will be a general election prior to Simpson Miller referring to the matter publicly. This was premature, as the PNP had not settled on candidates, there were no political field work done for electoral success, no message of hope, just pure austerity and debating Andrew Holness's big house — a dream to which every ambitious Jamaican aspires. The PNP's political leverage was further handicapped by its refusal to participate in national debates and, yes, the disorganised and dysfunctional national campaign machinery led by Dr Peter Phillips. His actions were suspect. If Portia Simpson Miller had won the election by a reduced margin it would have given him a good enough reason to mount yet another challenge.

Since Dr Peter Phillips's ascension to the leadership of the party in 2017, without the stamp of approval of the delegates, we lost two by-elections in constituencies we previously held. However, Phillips seems quite comfortable with himself and the political misfortunes of the party. Very few members from the Opposition benches credibly and consistently tackle the Government on its ineptness and bare-faced abuse of the public's purse and trust. Bunting is one of those leading Opposition members that keep the Government in check. Since he decided to answer the calling to challenge for the leadership of the PNP all major national polls have pointed to a resurgent PNP. Finally the PNP's base has arisen and is gaining traction from thousands of under-40s. Bunting's decision is not self-serving, neither is it greed for power; it is rather for restoration and to add relevance to the PNP. Even Phillips would agree that a challenge is not bad for the PNP. After all, this is his fourth offering; he lost to Simpson Miller twice and saw no damage then. All poll results have shown his inability to defeat the Andrew Holness-led Administration amidst allegations of much corruption.

Bunting's challenge is the best thing that has happened to the PNP since the 2016 loss. The political demographic is changing rapidly. The use of new media to galvanise the needed under-40s are inevitable; they are the engine and gear stick of any winnable campaign machinery. And, yes, you must have the money. His ideas and drive for the party are laser-focused. His 'Rise United' campaign is resurrecting hope and belief among supporters and those on the fence here in Jamaica and abroad to support the PNP. This is evidenced by the high number of volunteers working on his campaign and the mass support of people attending his public events and those streaming online.

The only election Dr Peter Phillips has won is St Andrew East Central, though retaining it by reduced margins. He lost twice to Simpson Miller, lost general and local government elections as national campaign director, and lost two by-elections as leader of the PNP, even a safe PNP seat. It is clear that he is predisposed to losing.

Peter Bunting has won all contested elections, defeating former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer in Clarendon South Eastern in 1993 by 1,443 votes; Councillor Sally Porteous in the Manchester Central in 2007 by 115 votes after being selected by the party as standard-bearer exactly one month before the general election; he retained his seat by fending off a formidable opponent Danville Walker in 2011 by an increased margin of 539; and went on to increase his firm grip on the seat in 2016 by defeating former Member of Parliament St Aubyn Bartlett by an increased margin of 1,172. He clearly has a profile for winning elections. Having Bunting at the helm will surely give the JLP a run for its money whenever the bell is rung.

Rayon Walters is a student of public policy.

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