Phillips should remain as PNP president


Thursday, April 11, 2019

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Today is the 52nd anniversary of the death of Sir Donald Burns Sangster. Today is also the 52nd anniversary of the swearing-in of Hugh Lawson Shearer as prime minister of Jamaica — the third person ever to be so named after Jamaica's political i ndependence.

This 52nd anniversary of Hugh Shearer becoming prime minister comes a week after Ann-Marie Vaz of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was victorious in the Portland Eastern by-election defeating Damion Crawford of the People's National Party (PNP). Congratulations are in order for Vaz.

In the 1966 enumeration ahead of the 1967 General Election, for the first time ever, voters were obliged to go to an electoral centre to be enumerated rather than be enrolled at home. The PNP's organisational strategies were previously geared towards scrutineers accompanying enumerators into the homes of potential voters. The new method confounded the PNP organisation, resulting in an inadequate voters' list and consequently their defeat.

What was really disturbing in 1967 was the way in which the constituencies were carved for the increased House of Representatives from 45 to 53 members.

Alexander Bustamante had stepped down as prime minister while still being JLP leader, but only on paper. The JLP began to become fragmented after Sangster died and Shearer succeeded him as prime minister. By 1971 a Gleaner headline screamed, “Split in the Cabinet”. That spilt seriously affected the JLP campaign teamwork and contributed to its defeat in 1972.

Noted Sunday Gleaner columnist of the day, Ulric Simmonds, was at pains to compare the results of the 1972 election with the previous 1967 election. In many constituencies where the PNP defeated sitting JLP Members of Parliament in 1972, the JLP votes were less than in 1967, while the PNP got roughly the same or even less than in 1967.

Still, in 1972 the PNP polled some 49,000 votes more than they received in 1967. The increased number came from new and younger voters in specific constituencies who were mobilised and also enraptured by Michael Manley's charisma. That alone brought more money into the PNP's 1972 campaign from private sector interests wanting favours from the winner.

In the recent by-election in Portland Eastern, the JLP polled 3,659 votes more than it achieved in the 2016 General Election. There was no swing at all to the JLP, but Ann-Marie Vaz was able to bring out the dormant JLP voters with the resources available to her. Still, the PNP's Damion Crawford, with more than likely less resources, polled 1,064 more votes than Dr Lynvale Bloomfield received when he ran in the general election. This is a very commendable performance.

It was Kevin O'Brien Chang, speaking on CVM Television last Thursday night, who said that Ann-Marie Vaz's narrow victory saved the opinion pollsters from embarrassment. The pollster's figures were completely wrong, although their prediction of a winner was right. The difference between the parties was very close and not a runaway victory for the JLP as predicted. It is what happens on election day that counts.

Just as I wrote two weeks ago, the fact that the corruption scandals since 2016 have been more than there have ever been in an equal time period since 1944 did not have an effect on the result — and would not have even if the PNP's Damion Crawford won.

Will the victory of Ann-Marie Vaz be a signal to some people that they can continue their corrupt activities? Already some commentators have said that the PNP had better stop digging up corruption scandals because it is has not helped them at all. But it would be a very sad day for Jamaica if they stopped.

Indeed, this is one reason, in my opinion, that Peter Phillips should remain as president of the PNP. His personal integrity, coupled with an eye for corruption with a view to stamping it out, is what Jamaica needs now. In any case, the winner of the 'battle' (by-elections) does not always win the 'war' (general election).

And age is not a factor to me. Sir Alexander Bustamante became prime minister of Jamaica at age 78.

It is my view that the real reason for some being opposed to Peter Phillips's PNP leadership is that he would not be a willing partner to any chicanery. To me, the criticism of Phillips's PNP leadership stems from individuals who want the position for themselves, and who goad others to do their bidding.

In terms of Lenten themes, as we approach Good Friday next week, I am reminded of the gospel verses in which we read that the Pharisees whipped up the crowds to say, “Give us Barabbas! We have no King but Caesar! Crucify him!” Who are the Pharisees in the PNP that whip up the PNP crowd against Phillips?

JLP General Secretary Horace Chang is right and refreshingly honest. He is spot on when he says that a change in the PNP leadership will result in a string of leadership changes from one to the other resulting in a divided PNP, which the JLP would love to happen. Clearly, the members of the PNP National Executive Council understand this; hence, their vote of confidence in Phillips this past Monday.

The PNP benefited from the previous division in the JLP when there were calls for the removal of Edward Seaga as leader, and then the National Democratic Movement was formed, which divided the organisational effort of the JLP.

When the JLP's political leadership switched from Hugh Shearer to Edward Seaga, complaints about Shearer were countered with the statement, “It is not Shearer now, it is Seaga,” even when it was pointed out that Seaga was in Shearer's Cabinet.

Likewise, when Bruce Golding took over the leadership of the JLP we heard, “It is not Seaga now it is Golding,” even though Golding was in Seaga's Cabinet.

And the same was said in 2011 when Andrew Holness succeeded Bruce Golding.

I do not hear PNP foot soldiers saying that it is not P J Patterson or Portia Simpson Miller now, but Peter Phillips. It is far better for the PNP to spend its time marketing Peter Phillips now and not divide the PNP at this time.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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