People’s National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament Peter Murcott Bunting will challenge Dr Peter David Phillips for the top post in the Opposition political movement, Bunting confirmed by way of a statement.
“Since our party’s East Portland by-election loss, there has been increasing speculation about both the desirability and the likelihood of a leadership of the PNP,” Bunting said in the statement.
“Uncertainty can be debilitating for a political movement, and an undeclared campaign is already starting to develop in social media and amongst party members. For good order and transparency, it is best that this speculation be put to rest as soon as possible. Therefore, I confirm that I am offering myself for president of the People’s National Party at the annual conference in September. This is a carefully considered decision which I believe to be in the best interest of the party and the country,” Bunting related in the statement.
Bunting, who is said to be overseas, could not be contacted directly for clarification on certain points raised in the statement.
And already, it appears that Bunting is putting his apparatus in place to seek the post of president, in a move which is being both welcomed and criticised by supporters of Jamaica’s longest-serving political party.
He will not be among those summoned to meet with Dr Phillips in Clarendon today, after the party president called a meeting of MPs, caretakers, and councillors for 10 o’clock — a move party officials believe was made by Dr Phillips to test his strength in the event of a possible challenge to his leadership at the 81-year-old party’s annual conference scheduled for September.
It is not certain how Dr Phillips, who turns 70 on December 28, will take the news, as up to recently he had made overtures to Bunting in a bid to energise a strained relationship. Dr Phillips had offered Bunting, a former general secretary of the PNP, the post of campaign director heading into the next general election, expected by February 2021, although the law gives the prime minister an additional three months to summon the electorate to the polls.
Speculation exists too, that since Bunting has decided to go for the party’s top leadership position, others could join the race, among them former Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and former Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna.
Party officials who spoke with yesterday said that there were both negatives and positives to Bunting’s decision to meet Dr Phillips on the track in a bid to earn a belated birthday gift.
“Why is he challenging at this time? The timing is wrong. We are preparing for a general election, we are hurting, and our own is driving more pain. I will fight with Dr Phillips until the end,” one said.
“I don’t think it is right to take on Dr Phillips now. I know that my retirement from the PNP is very near. They are already planning who they will kick out and many will leave before Dr Phillips does,” another stated.
But there were positive words for Bunting too.
“If now is not the right time, then when is?” one PNP parliamentarian asked. “I am supporting Bunting. The party is going nowhere under Phillips. He fails to make simple decisions, drags out matters that can be solved in a short time, and continues to have people around him who make him look bad — and the party suffers as a result.”
“Peter Bunting is the better Peter,” another chipped in. “Phillips has done nothing since Portia Simpson Miller (former party president) was pushed out of office. In fact, the party has deteriorated since he took over as president. He clearly does not know how to run a political party and he should step down.”
But Phillips, who succeeded Simpson Miller as PNP president in 2017, has also earned plaudits for his administration of ministries under his control while he served in the Cabinet under former prime ministers PJ Patterson and Simpson Miller.
“You can question his ability to lead a political party if you want, but Phillips is one of the best finance ministers that this country has seen. In fact, he does well anywhere he is placed, which suggests that he could be a good prime minister, if he can win an election,” a PNP councillor suggested.
That assertion led to a recent opinion poll conducted by the Dr Don Anderson-led Market Research Services which determined that Dr Phillips’ positive approval rating stood at 12 per cent. He also got a 51 per cent negative rating, while a further 37 per cent of respondents rated his leadership as average.
Those numbers may have had a bearing on recent defeats in the by-elections of St Mary South Eastern, which the PNP lost in 2017 after winning it a year before, and that in Portland Eastern, deemed a relatively safe PNP seat, that was won by the JLP in April this year.
Some of those critical of Dr Phillips’ stewardship say that the political veteran, one-time Rastaman, and prominent university lecturer has not done enough to embrace technology and move the party forward in a more scientific way.
Dr Phillips’ decision to hold on to Julian Robinson as general secretary, and keep faith in members of the ‘old guard’ to lead the way in by-election campaigns, were points raised by two delegates of the party during a social gathering last Friday, as they voiced their views about a potential challenge