MONTEGO BAY, St James — Mark Golding on Sunday explained that the People's National Party (PNP) has embarked on a new process to select candidates that will give it the "strongest team" going into the next general election.
The process, the PNP president said, involves a poll that serves as a preliminary screening of contenders for seats that are being contested internally.
"It's really a kind of preliminary sifting process to take out potential candidates who really can't move the needle and wouldn't be able to win the seat for us. If there's only one candidate, they still have to get more than 50 per cent support from the delegates to go forward in what we call a yes/no vote," Golding told journalists at a news conference following the party's National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at Montego Bay Community College.
He noted that traditionally the selection process was one in which the party's delegates and group members in constituencies were the ones who chose the candidate. But now the party has decided to move to a one member, one vote system "and that involves a process of re-verification of our membership and so on".
"It's gonna take a little time. We're not there yet. So in order to ensure that we get... candidates that are winnable in the eyes of the voters, in the constituency, we're polling them to make sure that there's a certain threshold of support that they enjoy in order to move forward to be selected by the delegates," he said.
Last week, PNP supporters in St Ann South Eastern staged a protest in the constituency over the selection of former Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Wavell Hinds to contest the seat for which sitting Member of Parliament (MP) Lisa Hanna said she would not seek re-election as she was leaving representational politics.
Hanna announced her decision in a letter to Golding last August and said she trusted that the "early notice" of her departure "will give constituency delegates adequate time to go through a selection process to select a candidate of their choice, which is their constitutional right.
Since then, Hinds and Patricia Duncan Sutherland, who tasted defeat in the 2020 General Election in Hanover Eastern and Clarendon South Eastern, respectively, as well as political newcomer Dr Kenneth Russell have applied to contest the seat for the party in the next general election.
Two weeks ago the Jamaica Observer reported Dr Russell expressing confidence that he is the man for the job.
"I am the only one who can say I am from this constituency. They [the constituents] want one of their own who has lived through the issues of the constituency to represent them," Russell told the Observer.
"That is an advantage for me, and I come to the table having worked with Government on the issues that are most pressing to the constituency — whether it is community development, youth development, education — that is the work I have done and people appreciate that," he said.
At the same time, Hinds said he was urged to represent the constituency where he has grandparents, aunts and uncles who lived in Walker's Wood and other districts.
Duncan Sutherland has indicated that the reception she has received has been really good in the constituency which is in the parish where her father, the late DK Duncan, was born.
During last week's protest Hanna — who won the seat by almost 4,000 votes each time in the three general elections between 2007 and 2016, before squeezing home by just 31 votes in 2020 — told constituents, in a Twitter post, to defend their right to vote for their representative.
"You cannot want to support the Jamaican Constitution for our people on the one hand but [flout] the PNP's constitution on the other," she wrote, pointing out that every member of the party in good financial standing has a constitutional right to vote.
She reminded that in her second term as MP and regional chair she had faced a challenge for the seat.
"I recall at an NEC meeting our current party chairman stated that no one was above being challenged because that is what the PNP's constitution allowed for," Hanna said.
"I could have made political moves to circumvent a delegate election, but I insisted that I face the delegates in a selection conference and that they must be enfranchised to speak.
"Those who feel this system is archaic should move to amend the party's constitution and do away with the delegates system to one of just 'popularity polling'. However, that decision resides only within the party's annual conference domains.
"Let's not just go with the flow as the means to the destination. Anything worthwhile in life for people's progress is worth fighting for," she said, telling the delegates in the constituency to stand their ground as the democracy of the PNP depends on them.
On Sunday, Golding told journalists that the spirit in which the party has moved to quell rumblings in St Ann South Eastern was positive.
"A part of my message to the NEC was, we're all in this thing together. We all have a common objective, which is to ensure the party has the best, strongest team to put to the Jamaican people so that we can be successful in the next election," Golding stated.
"The opportunity is there for us and we must seize it and behave accordingly. And so I sent a message that any issues that arise — and there will be — let us resolve them through the channels within the party. We don't need to push everything out into the public domain to give the media more things to highlight... We know you media like controversy, we understand that, but it's not our job to feed it to you," he quipped.
He said that in the first round of the new selection process the party has prioritised the seats that were held up to 2020 and then lost in that election, and seats where the sitting MP is retiring.
"So those are the ones that we're doing in the first round. And those are nearly completed now. Then we'll be moving to those that we had won up till 2016 but lost... and then we'll do the rest," he said.
He added that the selections are expected to be completed in time for the party's annual conference traditionally held in September.
When the Observer sought a response from Duncan Sutherland following the NEC she shied away from discussing the selection issue, offering only that she is working with the party to win the next general election.
"I am an aspirant and a member of the People's National Party and the president of the PNP Women's Movement. We are in the process of selecting our candidates and we have designed a process to select candidates, and as we are going through, we are having the discussions to make sure it works best for the party, for Jamaica, and to ensure that we are all victorious and the PNP will form the next Government," she said.