Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Updated | Editorial | The PNP after the vote

Published:Thursday | September 20, 2018 | 12:14 AM

Over the longer term, it may not amount to much. But last week's vice-presidential elections appear to have altered the leadership dynamic within the People's National Party (PNP). The loser was Phillip Paulwell. He was elected as one of the party's four vice-presidents, but his leadership aspiration took a hit from the insurgent candidacies of Damion Crawford and Mikael Phillips.

Mr Crawford was the big winner. Without the base of a constituency he parlayed his popularity to a place in the party's inner councils. Yet, we advise Mr Crawford against exaggerating his mandate and note that many will insist that he still has to prove himself capable of substance, beyond his gift for the populist gab, delivered in alliterations.

The more compelling issue facing the PNP, though, is how it translates last week's election outcomes to an advantage with voters. That, largely, will depend on how adroitly Peter Phillips, the party's president, plays the hand he's been served, to deliver a message that resonates with Jamaica. After nearly two years at the helm, he has to demonstrate his 'ownership' of the PNP and his standing as a leader people can follow.

A good thing for Dr Phillips and the PNP is that they emerged from the vice presidential election relatively unscathed. As these things go, the campaign was collegial. Ambitions, though, were dented. Mr Paulwell, for instance, relinquishing the chairmanship of the party's important Region Three, covering constituencies in Kingston and St Andrew, to become a vice-president, was to establish himself as Dr Phillips' heir apparent. Not only had he held senior ministerial positions, but his role as regional boss ought to have given him a strong delegate base.

As it turned out, Mr Paulwell only squeaked into a presidential slot. His 1,645 votes were 68, or four per cent, more than his Kingston and St Andrew colleague, Angela Brown Burke, who lost the post she won in 2016. Significantly, he trailed Mikael Phillips (1,782), the son of the party president, by 137 votes, or eight per cent. In Mr Crawford's case, his 1,973 votes were 475, or 20 per cent, more than Mr Paulwell's.

The important context to Mr Crawford's performance was not only that he gained nearly 11 per cent more votes than his nearest rival, but he started with no constituency. He was deselected from the St Andrew East Rural constituency for the 2016 general election, the constituency party having deemed him imperious and arrogant. That, clearly, did not diminish the broad popularity of the dreadlocked politician, or people's embrace of his rhythmic, mile-a-minute, often rhyming, populist perorations.

Mr Crawford is right that he connects with young people and that he can be an important accessory to Dr Phillips, whose intellect isn't accompanied by inherent charisma. But even if he is content, for now, to be Dr Phillips' acolyte, Mr Crawford's performance is likely to arouse his ambition for leadership. Mikael Phillips, too, has a perch. In the circumstance, Mr Paulwell will be forced to review his calculus and, possibly, adjust strategies.

 

CRAWFORD AND FERGUSON

 

In formulating their tactics, all the players, Mr Crawford included, ought not to lose sight of the fact that the 3,090 delegates eligible to vote last week were 222, or approximately seven per cent, fewer than in 2016. Further, two years ago, the most votes by a candidate - Fenton Ferguson's 2,479 - represented 75 per cent of the registered delegates. Dr Ferguson didn't make the cut this time. The votes for Mr Crawford last week was 64 per cent of the registered delegates, or 10 per cent lower than what was achieved by Dr Ferguson. The cause and effect of these changes will require deeper analysis for what story it may tell about the candidates themselves, and how the party engages its members.

Phillips now has a relatively young, energetic top-tier leadership. There is beginning to be coherence in his party's policy positions, based on the enunciations at the conference. There now has to be consistent articulation of the emerging themes for people to judge if the PNP can be treated as a government-in-waiting. In that regard, Dr Phillips' shadow cabinet does him no favours.

NOTE: The editorial was updated to show that Phillip Paulwell is the chairman of the PNP's Region Three.