Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Blythe's bold 'Bolt' - Plans legendary finish in PNP leadership race

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 8:00 AMArthur Hall
Portia Simpson Miller (left) and Dr Karl Blythe in discussion at the PNP annual conference in 2005.
Dr Karl Blythe surrounded by PNP delegates.
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He is financing his campaign from a "piggy bank" rather than the traditional war chest, and he has no doubt it will take a Usain Bolt-like performance for him to cross the finish line in front, but Dr Enoch Karl Blythe is quietly confident that he can beat Portia Simpson Miller in the race for the People's National Party's (PNP) top job.

Never before in Jamaica's history has a sitting leader of one of the two major political parties been defeated in an internal election, and Blythe is well aware that a win would be etched in the annals of Jamaica's political history, similar to Bolt's triple-triple at the Olympic Games.

But if Bolt is superhuman, Blythe is not, and the veteran Comrade is well aware that he would have to rise to that level to achieve a win.

"I am pleasantly surprised about the response I have been getting, but I'm always mindful that it is the president of the party that I'm going up against, and when you are going up against the president, you have to bear that in mind," Blythe told The Sunday Gleaner.

"So even when things look good, you have to remember that come that day, you never know what will happen," added Blythe.

The former PNP vice-president, who was nominated to contest the presidential race in 2006 before telling his supporters to vote for Simpson Miller at the eleventh hour, was adamant this is a contest between the sitting president and himself and the party central should not place its power behind either candidate.

"I should not be taking on anyone except Comrade Simpson Miller ... and, therefore, I will do everything in my power and use the constitution of the party to ensure that the party is not who I'm fighting."

 

MEETING DELEGATES ON-ON-ONE

 

Blythe said he has already been given an updated copy of the delegates' list for the election, and he has been meeting delegates one-and-one to show them why he is making the challenge at this time, what is his goal and endgame and, hopefully, convince them to vote for him.

"I am hoping that the quiet and silent vote will come in and show everybody that we definitely need this renewal," said Blythe.

The delegates' list has given Blythe a fillip as the party's usually powerful Region Three, which covers the Corporate Area constituencies and which is expected to line up behind Simpson-Miller, is not as well represented as in the past, creating space for delegates from other regions to have more of a say in the final outcome.

Two regions which will turn out with a greater proportion of delegates this time around are Region One, which covers St Ann and Trelawny, and Region Six, which includes Westmoreland, Hanover and St James.

"That is a nice plus when we have One and Six because I would expect to come out of Region Six ahead of her and Region One is very close to us again, so I would also expect to have a significant number of voters coming out of that," declared Blythe, who made his political name in Central Westmoreland, where he served as member of parliament for four consecutive terms.

"But, generally, as I said before, I went into this thing with my eyes wide open. The fact is that it is difficult to unseat the leader of a party, and certainly that of the PNP, when it is the delegates who are voting, because there is a lot of sentiment. But I am hoping that the delegates will recognise that what I am fighting for now is the party, the way forward for the party, and the fact that renewal is needed - free from fear, intimidation or any form of abuse."

 

CALLING FOR A DEBATE

 

Blythe had pinned his campaign on facing Simpson Miller in a debate on national and party matters, but with no response yet to his call for a face-off, he has resigned himself to that not taking place, even though he is adamant that the Comrade leader would not be able to hide behind the same excuse she used for not participating in the national debates in the lead-up to the recent general election.

"The party could not tell her not to debate because there are two candidates running, and the party could not tell one not to debate and the other that he can debate," declared Blythe as he charged that Simpson Miller could not handle a debate.

With just about three weeks left before the election, Blythe said reports that he has received significant donations for his campaign are false as he is operating with money from a small "piggy bank" and would welcome any funding that comes his way now.

"I need it badly, so if they have the intention to donate, please do so now because I need it badly. I'm running out of funds ... . Anybody planning to donate, please send it, or I will even come and pick it up. And when I get it, I will make sure it goes into my campaign; I will not use it personally," said Blythe with a chuckle.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com

 

Excerpts from Blythe's second letter to Comrades

 

This year's conference will be significant in the history of our party because you will be asked to decide whether your loyalty ought to be to the party or the individual. In my mind, as a Comrade, party is paramount and must be placed above every single Comrade's personal ambition, even that of the leader.

There should be no doubt in your minds that the democracy in the party needs to be strengthened and deepened. Secondly, renewal must also take place in an atmosphere free from fear, intimidation, isolation, victimisation and abuse of any sort. A return to civility is a must.

I have asked myself to find one significant improvement since the departure of Comrade P.J. Patterson, which would ensure that we remain relevant and attractive to young voters and others, and can find none.

We have long boasted of being the oldest political party in the Caribbean and the largest democratic party in the Caribbean. In the People's National Party, all our leaders have been considered to be honourable people with integrity. It is our responsibility to ensure that this remains so in order that the good name of our party is never tarnished.

Comrades, the former British prime minister, David Cameron, championed a referendum which he lost. Immediately, he announced the timetable for his departure. When she was asked about emulating him, our party leader's reply was, "I am not British!"

To add insult to injury, the party appointed an appraisal committee to arrive at the reasons for our defeat at the polls in February 2016 and some of the critical findings can only be placed at the feet of our party president.

Comrade Simpson Miller has served the party for the past 40 years to the best of her ability and must be acknowledged and honoured but she must take responsibility for this debacle and should have offered her resignation.