Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Mark Wignall | Bunting talks up stocks - Says 70% back him over Phillips

Published:Sunday | August 4, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Peter Bunting
Bunting
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Rain and flashes of lightning were doing their thing as the three-year-old youngster rolled at warp speed on his scooter through the huge living room.

“Is it powered?’”I asked his father, Peter Bunting.

“No, that’s just him,” he said. We were seated at first on a balcony directly overlooking the city of Kingston. The wine had been served and we sipped.

Inside, as we sat to dine on oxtail and more, I asked: “In the 2017 South West St Andrew constituency contest between Angela Brown Burke and Audrey Smith-Facey, you said that a vote for the person you were supporting, Smith-Facey, would be one against corruption and cronyism. Now that Brown Burke is your campaign director, how do you explain that?”

We sipped some more wine as he said, “I had concerns about some of the elements who were a part of that whole constituency network and who I feared had followed her from the east. From that time until now, we have had many discussions about that matter. After a long time, we have agreed not only on political direction, but on the people we associate with.”

I asked Peter Bunting, challenger to the PNP president, why he believed that he had any right or was ordained for the times to upset the leadership of Dr Peter Phillips. And he answered in line with what he said to the general media in the last few weeks – plus a little more.

“No political leader is there forever. If the leader has performed well in the past, but at some later stage he is not just stuck but is not thought to have the ability to engineer his own relevance, that leader is up for a challenge.’

“So, what is it that makes you the perfect person to challenge Peter Phillips?”

He looked away for just a short while and then said: “When I was in sixth form at high school, Michael Manley visited and he spoke to us for a moment. I was at that very moment challenged that some of us needed to be more than just what one person can attain. The only way forward was political.”

After studying abroad, Bunting arrived back in Jamaica in the mid-1980s during the time of JLP rule under Eddie Seaga. “I made links with PNP Gen Sec Paul Robertson and my party work for the PNP really took off – in my eyes, at any rate,” he said.

From 1985 to 1987, he was involved in the corporate world through Manufacturers Merchant Bank, the same entity that has made its way into what is now Sagicor.

Bunting defending his PNP strength

I was part of Michael Manley’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the period of the 1980s. Manley recognised that the world was moving into a more market-driven economy, and if he did not move in that direction, he would be crushed by the forces of the global motions of money, power and trade.”

MW: You have consistently made the case that the times you have contested elections, you have never sought safe seats and you have always won – in Clarendon and in Manchester?

PB: The PNP secretariat decided to send me in a seat considered totally safe for the JLP for the last four election cycles. The chances of a PNP candidate winning it was considered zero. I said to myself, ‘What difference could I make?’ And then I began going through the constituency and listening to the people. And that is how I won in Clarendon. I would be the last one to tell you that our mission is complete there, but we made a start.

They once wanted to send me to South East St Ann, a safe PNP seat, and I said no. I need a challenge. I need to listen to the people and see if they have concerns that I can use my political power to fix. So I told the PNP, ‘Forget about the St Ann constituency’. And that is when I decided that the choice of Central Manchester would be perfect for me. I like to fight for what I want not wait on it to fall into my lap.

After winning the Central Manchester constituency and seeing his party go down by one seat in 2016, Bunting was disappointed, but in the back of his mind, he saw a quick retrieval for the PNP.

PB: We are a party of thinkers and of people who can act on the multiplicity of thoughts, and if we have political power, to bring action to those thoughts. The truth is, I have not seen that happening since our narrow loss in 2016.

With the two by-election losses since 2016, the electorate has lost interest in considering the Opposition as a party capable of being a government at a moment’s notice. Every poll has shown us, the PNP, in a negative light. I am not anxious to criticise Comrade Peter Phillips, but the fact is, the general public, the voting public, is not seeing in him the solutions to the PNP.

What’s a Bunting-Holness matchup like?

MW: You have been making out yourself as a winning option against Holness instead of a Holness-Phillips contest.

PB: In every poll possible, the reality is that our leader, who I fully respect, is way behind.

In poll numbers I saw, 47 per cent of the adult population of Jamaica, a significant number of which would be PNP supporters, said they would not vote for the PNP if its leader is Peter Phillips.

At the same time, that same poll said 70 per cent of PNP voters would vote for Bunting instead of Peter Phillips.

As to whether Bunting has the capacity to win the PNP internal contest over Phillips, that will be decided on September 7. Counted among the certainties is that in politics, all uncertainties are possible.

The JLP administration under Andrew Holness is three streets away from perfection. But that direction is the nearest we have been away from seeing something good happening in the society.

A viable opposition party in the PNP is not only desired, it is essential. Since the Bunting challenge on Peter Phillips, the PNP has not only moved from its sluggish self, but it feels that it is now free to even make a grand fool of itself.

PNP peace after the contest?

MW: On the morning of September 8, if you win and Peter Phillips is deposed, what happens then to the PNP?

He was munching on some grapes. He looked across at me.

PB: The PNP will not die, will never die. And that is why I decided that I needed to get involved. I have listened to the little ladies on the ground and the men who I meet with, and I am convinced that this great party will survive this contest. In fact, I believe we will rise united, a much stronger party that will defeat the JLP at the next election.

MW: With you at its helm?

PB: But of course! It is never easy for a political party to do its internal investigations and to arrive at the conclusion that the leader is a key part of the problem going forward.

How do you move on from there if the leader cannot recognise the problem?

Immediately after interviewing Peter Bunting last Thursday afternoon, I called a JLP friend of mine and told him that it was my belief that if Bunting won the PNP internal contest on September 7, they would probably have an entirely new PNP on their hand!

“Why you think so?” the person said.

“Suppose Bunting wins. What happens to how the voting population is likely to see the Holness-Bunting face-off?” I prodded.

“We have been there before, Mark. Holness beats either Phillips or Bunting,” the Labourite said.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.