Anger is smouldering inside the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) over Peter Bunting's leadership challenge to President Dr Peter Phillips.
At the same time, while Bunting said he would contest the leadership at the PNP's annual conference in September, it appears that Phillips wants to have the election as soon as possible to prevent the disruptions usually associated with long periods of campaigning.
Yesterday, a news release from the PNP said Phillips urged that the matter “be settled in a timely manner” and that the process “serves the best interests of the PNP, so that the party can refocus its efforts on the critical national issues that are plaguing Jamaica at this time”.
A leadership election before the annual conference — the party's highest decision-making body — would require a special delegates' conference.
Last evening, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson told the Jamaica Observer that the party officers will discuss the matter at a meeting this evening, with a view to arriving at a date and working out the logistics for the vote which they will present to the executive.
Meanwhile, evidence of the outrage sparked by Bunting's challenge was displayed at yesterday's meeting of the party's elected representatives in Clarendon, hours after the Manchester Central member of parliament officially announced, via the media, that he had thrown down the gauntlet.
Party insiders told the Observer that there were a number of skirmishes on the outside of the meeting. “It was very tense,” said one party insider, who opted to remain anonymous.
“People were angry. They felt the timing is wrong, that the challenge is going to set the party back and serve to shift focus from the larger problems affecting the country,” the party insider said.
According to the source, Dr Phillips, while not ignoring the difficulties the challenge would create for the party, used the meeting to encourage Comrades to focus on the bigger goal.
“Basically he talked about the need to prepare for elections because that was what the meeting was about from the outset, to get the party prepared for the election — and he continued with basically that,” the source said.
That information was corroborated by Councillor Dennis Gordon (Maxfield Park Division), who also told the Observer that Phillips was undaunted by the challenge.
“He's not backing down, but at the same time he has a responsibility as the party leader to carry the party through any turbulent period,” Gordon said.
He said the majority of the people at the meeting got up and endorsed Phillips. “Some didn't say anything, but the mood was that he should continue.”
Bunting, in the statement announcing his challenge, said that since Phillips became president in March 2017 he “has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party, and is just not seen as the right person for this time”.
Phillips has taken some amount of flak from Comrades because under his leadership the PNP has lost two parliamentary by-elections to the governing Jamaica Labour Party — first in St Mary South Eastern in October 2017, and second in Portland Eastern, deemed a relatively safe PNP seat, in April this year.
Bunting said that since the Portland Eastern by-election loss, there has been increasing speculation about both the desirability and the likelihood of a change in leadership of the PNP.
“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,” Bunting said, adding that there is “growing acceptance/resignation in the general public and amongst various stakeholder groups — including party membership and supporters, civil society, and private sector leadership — that the PNP under Dr Peter Phillips's leadership cannot defeat the JLP in a general election”.
Meanwhile, the PNP's news release yesterday reported Phillips as saying that the paramount consideration of the party “must be to provide the Jamaican people with a strong and effective alternative to an out-of-control JLP Government which has unleashed unprecedented scales of corruption on the Jamaican landscape”.
Added Phillips: “I am glad for the expressed support of the delegates, parliamentary and leadership groups, as well as Jamaicans from all walks of life, and I want to assure them that I will not allow this challenge to endanger the viability of the PNP or its commitment to the Jamaican people to provide alternative leadership and effective governance.”