White out, Wright in - PNP replaces embattled North Trelawny standard bearer
Agronomist Victor Wright has been selected to replace John-Paul White who has stepped aside as the People's National Party (PNP) standard-bearer for Northern Trelawny.
PNP General Secretary Paul Burke, who last night confirmed the selection, told The Gleaner that Wright, who is also from North Trelawny, was White's deputy campaign manager.
Burke said Wright was unanimously endorsed by both campaign and constituency committees yesterday evening.
White has been grappling with a controversy that erupted after it came to light that he owed $17 million in tax arrears. He has subsequently come to an arrangement with Tax Administration Jamaica to clear the debt.
"I have been guided to a decision by the People's National Party, which I will accept," White said in a statement last night.
"I wish to remove any issue that may potentially cause the party embarrassment. Therefore, I will step back as standard-bearer for the party's Northern Trelawny constituency organisation, in the interest of the greater good and in the aim of securing an overall victory for the PNP."
He added: "No doubt, there are thousands and thousands of people in the constituency who will be disappointed. However, I assure them that they will always be close to my heart. Therefore, I will be in the constituency to encourage the people to be united and to support the People's National Party to ensure a victory at the polls on February 25."
Burke was emphatic that the replacement of the embattled candidate would not derail the PNP programme in the turmoil-wracked constituency.
"We will not be distracted by any misinformation or propaganda," he asserted.
Like Burke, Dennis Meadows, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) prospective candidate, who was bracing for an electoral battle with White, has asserted that he will not be sidetracked.
Meadows described the latest episode in the PNP as unfortunate, adding that he has enjoyed a civil relationship with White in the short term since the two had been pitted against each other on the electoral battlefield.
But Meadows said he was not perturbed about having to face a different contender.
"My campaign strategy was not informed by the fractiousness in the PNP ranks," he said.
Meadows suggested that the support he enjoys in Northern Trelawny transcends the political divide.
"The sudden departure of my opponent will not impact my viability adversely as my activism has earned the respect and admiration of Trelawny Northern, who will make their decision on election day," he said.
But even with Meadows' characterisation of the state of the PNP in Northern Trelawny, Burke insisted that White has "stepped back on his own accord".
He said White, who has been under immense pressure since he was selected to replace first-time Member of Parliament Patrick Atkinson, has not been forced out, a claim that has been contradicted by some factions within the PNP.
"We are satisfied that Mr White has been fulfilling the requirements which were agreed to with Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ)," said Burke, echoing the sentiment from the PNP's campaign spokesman Delano Franklyn on Wednesday.
Franklyn was emphatic that there has been no special intervention by the PNP on White's behalf as Equilibrio Solutions Jamaica Limited, the company of which he is a principal, has started to pay down the outstanding debt.
Northern Trelawny has been one of a number of constituencies held by the PNP that have been grappling with protests from some supporters.