Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Andre Wright | PNP petering out

Published:Monday | September 9, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Supporters of Peter Bunting and Dr Peter Phillips clash and are quickly separated by onlookers. A fractured PNP may be easy pickings for the Jamaica Labour Party if Prime Minister Andrew Holness calls a snap election.
Dr Peter Phillips (right), president of the PNP, gives his victory speech at the National Arena after he defeated Peter Bunting in a leadership election. Looking on is Mikael Phillips, his son.
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Andrew Holness might be a few decades outside adolescence, but he must have woke up Sunday morning savouring the best political wet dream of his lifetime. After the prospect of facing two Peters, he now relishes the reality of a fractured People’s National Party (PNP) led by two half-Peters – both battered black and blue – that don’t add up to one.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader must now decide whether to proceed with a projected early 2020 general election or trigger the tripwire before year end to seize on the bloodlust drama about to unfold among the Comrades.

While Prime Minister Holness ponders his ground game and assesses a war chest of state funds for leverage, Peter Phillips, though triumphant, can hardly be triumphalist. Distilling the numbers, Phillips clutched only 2.73 per cent more votes than his rival Peter Bunting – 1,427 to 1,351 – of the 2,778 valid ballots counted last Saturday afternoon.

Phillips, in his victory speech, was apparently dismissive of the fact that he is almost as unpopular among the delegates as he is popular, only acknowledging the Rise United faction as an afterthought in a return to the stage. Dr Phillips’ camp suffers from the delusion of entitlement that 1st Peter has the divine right of kingship to the throne of the PNP and to the prime ministership of Jamaica.

That’s why Bunting, unwisely, buckled under the pressure of groupthink and allowed the anointing of Phillips as the undisputed party leader in 2017, robbing Phillips of legitimacy in the same way that Bruce Golding ‘colted’ the game for Holness. Andrew Holness was flagellated during a party rebellion until he definitively put Audley Shaw to the sword in 2015. There’s a virtue in political bloodsport that only the faint of heart can’t understand.

Both Peters have claimed a victory of sorts in Saturday’s run-off, but it is pyrrhic. Though Peter Phillips can claim to have beaten Bunting numerically, he walks with much of the old baggage that doomed the party to its 2016 general election loss and backsiding in East Portland and St Mary South East. Even with One PNP boasting universal population of regional chairpersons and vice-presidents and the overwhelming party superstructure, as well as having the weight of tradition on its side, Peter Phillips has eked out dominance by the flare of a nose.

COLD WAR RELIC

Rise United, as a movement just a few months old, has tapped into growing discontentment about the relevance and winnability of the PNP. But what has been Peter Phillips’ response? He has saved the soul of the party by asserting democratic socialism? Hold on to that notion, Maas Peter, and you will be ossified as a Cold War-era relic.

It’s unclear whether Peter Bunting, the demonised ugly capitalist with a band of marginals and has-beens in the throes of rigor mortis, could have sparked the transformation the PNP is desperately in need of, but he has awakened a hunger for renewal that has remained in gestation for too long. Resurrect the corpse of Lisa Hanna, who once championed change. And has Krystal Tomlinson’s call for upheaval been muffled, or is she only unmuzzled to bark “Hitler!” at Andrew Holness?

Peter Phillips must also judge whether he can remodel the PNP as a credible voice against state corruption. With a scandal-ridden Holness administration that 69 per cent of Jamaicans deem corrupt, according to a Nationwide Blue Dot August opinion poll, almost a third of respondents would re-elect him and the JLP. The dissonance is tragic. How can Peter Phillips, and any alternative PNP leader, make the case for redemption when none has challenged the party’s appetite for corruption when it was in power?

The PNP has been as accommodative of dons, washed-up or otherwise, as the Shower Labourites. It’s a race to the bottom that has sapped optimism for real change in Jamaican politics. Must voter turnout evaporate to the tribalists of the party bases, of about 30-35 per cent of the eligible electorate, before we wake up?

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