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Ball in Portia's court - Analysts suggest Simpson Miller to determine own fate as PNP president

Published:Friday | April 1, 2016 | 4:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Simpson Miller: They challenge me at their own will or risk … this is not about me, it’s about the people.

Political commentators last night suggested that Portia Simpson Miller's departure from the leadership of the People's National Party (PNP) will depend more on the timetable she sets for herself than any other forces within the party.

Communications scholar Claude Robinson told The Gleaner that Simpson Miller would have to determine her future and at what point she would step down.

At the same time, Dr Paul Ashley, an attorney-at-law, is of the view that no one in the PNP is brave enough or has the support needed from delegates to challenge Simpson Miller for the leadership of the party.

Yesterday, the PNP president declared that any challenge to her leadership would be a risky undertaking.

"They challenge me at their own will or risk ... this is not about me, it's about the people. You can challenge me ... you can face an election and face what happens," she asserted on Radio Jamaica's Hotline.

But Robinson said Simpson Miller would have to make a determination about her value and her continued leadership of the party and whether that was in the interest of the party, and, by extension, the country.

"It is partly her decision as to how she sees her usefulness and her utility as leader and (partly) how the party sees it," he said.

He reasoned that much would depend on the findings of the post-election review currently being carried out by the PNP.

"One of the things that process must examine is why the party lost and how it rejuvenates itself in going forward, and leadership will be one of the things that has to be considered," he said.

Simpson Miller told Hotline host Emily Shields yesterday that she named a 22-member council of spokespersons to allow some people to gain experience and not because she wanted to please individuals who might mount a challenge to her leadership.

The PNP president signalled that she intended to stay at the helm of the party for the time being.

Simpson Miller took over the leadership of the party in February 2006 when former party president P.J. Patterson relinquished power, having won three consecutive elections.

Asked if she had thoughts about stepping down as PNP president after the February 25 general election defeat, Simpson Miller said yes but refused to respond when asked if she planned to go soon.

Former Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips, who was the PNP's campaign director for the February 25 general election, is the only person to have challenged Simpson Miller for the leadership of the party since she won over three others, including him, in 2006.

Ashley said he did not believe that Phillips would contemplate mounting another challenge to Simpson Miller; however, he said he believed that if there was a vacancy, Phillips would throw his hat into the ring.

During yesterday's Hotline interview, the PNP president was also quizzed about her refusal to participate in the proposed leadership debate.

Simpson Miller indicated that party functionaries made the decision for her not to debate.

"Others took that position, not me. I didn't take that decision ... who I was going to be debating with could not beat me in a debate because I beat someone before in a debate," she said.

"He could not beat me in a debate. I have more political experience than he does," she added in reference to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Providing more detail, the PNP president said, "I was told that I would have to be off the road for three days", highlighting that the party wanted her to be on the ground campaigning.

Ashley said the PNP's annual conference in September is expected to be "very interesting".

"What is happening, I know, is that there are a lot of ideas of possible alliances," he said.

"We might not have a situation in which you have all the touted contenders, but there might be smaller groupings of contenders, so one would be party president and one looks for a VP (vice-president) position."

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com