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Ending months of speculation, the Central Manchester Member of Parliament, Peter Bunting, confirmed yesterday that he will mount a leadership challenge against Dr. Peter Phillips for the PNP leadership. This confirmation comes as the next PNP annual conference looms. In his announcement published in the major newspapers, Bunting confirmed his intention to challenge the incumbent Dr. Peter Phillips in the leadership race. But, the PNP may have seen this coming.
After the disastrous results of the East Portland By Election in which the JLP snatched the PNP safe seat, the PNP retreated to lick its wounds. It commissioned an appraisal committee to review the reasons for its defeat. From its analysis, the writing is on the wall unless the leadership turns things around.
Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Phillips held an extraordinary meeting of Members of Parliament and Councillors earlier today (Sunday, June 9). Although the meeting’s agenda was not pre-circulated, speculation is that the objective was to canvass his supporters ahead of the leadership challenge. The meeting went ahead although not all the invited MPs and Councillors attended. As the heat intensifies, Dr. Phillips and his allies have moved quickly to consolidate power and drum up support.
Bunting Announces Leadership Challenge
Bunting solidified his decision to mount this leadership challenge after whispers about Phillips’ suitability to continue to lead the party intensified following the East Portland By-Elections. In his statement, Bunting noted that
“Dr. Phillips has made an outstanding contribution to the party and the country in the various positions in which he has served over the past three decades”
But, after he became the party’s president, Dr. Phillips has not implemented any transformational initiative. Bunting argues that at this time, Dr. Phillips is not seen as the right person to lead the party forward. Bunting statement then confirmed his candidacy in the leadership race at the PNP’s annual conference scheduled for September. Bunting also confirmed media reports that he had declined an offer for him to become the party’s campaign director.
Who is Peter Bunting?
Peter Murcott Bunting is an investment banker who started his political career in the 1990s. From serving as a personal advisor to the then Prime Minister the Right Honourable Michael Manley, Bunting went on to a successful career in banking. His first role was as CEO of the National Investment Bank of Jamaica, now known as the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ). In 1992, he along with friends Christopher Dehring and Mark Golding (himself a Member of Parliament), formed the successful investment banking firm, Dehring, Bunting and Golding (DB&G). Upon his return to politics, Peter Bunting quickly became the General Secretary of the People’s National Party, and also served as Minister of National Security from January 2012 to February 2016.
Leadership Weakness in the PNP
Following the PNP’s narrow defeat to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the February 2016 General Elections, the PNP appointed an appraisal committee to review the reasons for the party’s loss at the polls. Not surprisingly, the results painted a picture of the decline in the PNP’s fortunes, blame for which landed squarely at the feet of the leadership.
The Appraisal committee found that:
- The party was arrogant and took the electorate for granted
- There was a breakdown of trust among elements of the leadership leading into the campaign.
- The party’s message did not communicate hope and was incoherent.
- The party’s organisation was not election-ready.
By all appearances, since his election as party leader, Dr. Peter Phillips has done nothing but fall asleep at the wheel.
Now is the Time for New Leadership
Bunting believes now is the right time for new leadership. He cited the growing acceptance and resignation within the general public and among various stakeholder groups that the PNP under Dr. Phillips will not win the next general election. This election is constitutionally due in 2021.
Naturally, such a forecast will have negative consequences for party campaign funding, organisational energy, and voter support. Even recent polls suggest that the battle to recover from the 2016 defeat will be an uphill one for the People’s National Party under Dr. Phillips.
An RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll conducted between February 15 and March 3, 2019, revealed that of the 1,003 respondents polled, 51 percent rated Dr. Phillips negatively compared to only 15 percent who rated Prime Minister Andrew Holness as such. Conversely, only 12 percent of the respondents rated Dr. Phillips positively compared with an overwhelming 48 percent who rated the Prime Minister highly.
Past Leadership Challenges
However, this is not the first time that the People’s National Party has found itself in the throes of a leadership challenge. The party founded by Norman Washington Manley in 1938, saw leadership changing hands to Michael Manley in 1969. This change came after the younger Manley defeated challenger Vivian Blake. Michael Manley was then succeeded in 1992 by Percival James (PJ) Patterson, who defeated his sole challenger Portia Simpson Miller. However, Portia Simpson Miller succeeded to win a heated leadership race in 2006. The contenders then were Dr. Peter Phillips, Dr. Karl Blythe, and Mr. Omar Davies. In June 2017, Portia Simpson Miller handed over the leadership to Dr. Peter Phillips after he was selected, unopposed by the PNP conference delegates to become the next party leader.
In the weeks leading up to the PNP’s annual conference, the Peter Bunting team will get busy under the theme “Rise United”. A core support team is to be established to set up a campaign committee and supporting structures.
Bunting declared that he will be engaging different stakeholders inside the party and in the wider society. He will also hold discussions on the strategic direction the party should be taking under his leadership. Concerns and suggestions will be taken to finalise “a contemporary, relevant political platform grounded in the foundational principles of (the PNP) movement.”
Evidently, the surging tide of support for the rejection of the status quo and the introduction of change is getting bigger.