I was loyal to Portia, says Peter Bunting
Peter Bunting, one of the aspirants for presidency of the People's National Party (PNP), has declared that there was no plan between himself and South East St Ann Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna to force out Portia Simpson Miller.
"Myself and Lisa Hanna have had no agreement, no partnership or anything along those lines. That is just speculation, or perhaps is the work of propagandists," Bunting insisted yesterday.
"I challenge anybody to show, by their action, that they have been more loyal to Portia Simpson Miller since she first put her hat in the ring for leadership in 1992 against P.J. Patterson," he told The Gleaner.
"I certainly had no part, and would have no part, in pushing her out," he insisted.
An emotional Simpson Miller announced yesterday that she would not seek re-election as president of the PNP. Even before the announcement, supporters who attended yesterday's National Executive Council meeting at the Cedar Grove Academy in St Catherine blamed Bunting and Hanna for forcing her departure.
"No Portia, no Bunting and no Lisa Hanna," they chanted.
PORTIA MIGHT HAVE FELT FORCED OUT
PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill, who described himself as a personal friend of Simpson Miller, also suggested that she could have felt she was being forced out, but did not call any names.
"I can't speak for her, but I would be very surprised if that did not pass through her mind," he said when asked if the PNP president believed that she was being ousted.
Pickersgill said he did not believe that Simpson Miller was heartbroken over her decision to exit the political arena, but said she was very emotional.
"And she would have to be; it's been 40 years," he reasoned.
However, Bunting, who was speaking with The Gleaner after Simpson Miller's announcement, acknowledged that he was aware of the accusations, but insisted that he had nothing to do with her impending departure.
"I was the person who went up [on the floor of the PNP's annual conference in 1992] and nominated Portia Simpson Miller [for president]. I have been a friend and supporter of hers consistently over the years," he recounted.
Bunting, who served as general secretary under Simpson Miller for six years, praised her for what he described as her tremendous contribution to the PNP.
Pickersgill went further, telling reporters yesterday that he regarded the PNP president as one of the greatest women in Jamaica's history "for reasons that are very obvious".
"The amount of firsts that Portia Simpson Miller has scored, it will be difficult for anyone else in terms of that gender. I am proud of Portia Simpson Miller and what she has done for the party and what she has done for this country," Pickersgill underscored.
He retraced her journey through the 78-year-old party, pointing out that Simpson Miller started out 40 years ago as a group member "and came right up the ladder, right up to leader of the People's National Party.
"She presided over a Cabinet that ended in February 2016, and I believe - although I was a member of that Cabinet - it was the greatest performance of any government in recent times," the PNP chairman said.
"She is an extraordinary politician and an extraordinary woman," he said as he recounted attending her wedding and proposing the toast to her.
Jamaica Labour Party veteran Karl Samuda also paid tribute to the outgoing PNP president, saying Simpson Miller had devoted her life to the political process and was able to achieve the highest office in the nation.
"It is clear that she has very deep feelings towards the underprivileged and poor in our society. She has, over the years, focused primarily on trying to improve the situation with the underprivileged in our country," Samuda told The Gleaner.
"I would never wish to express anything negative about her, because I am one who respects effort, notwithstanding the fact that many of the things that obviously she would have liked to achieve have not been achieved," he added.
Pickersgill said the PNP would be planning a fitting tribute to Simpson Miller and would seek to ensure that her legacy is preserved.
- Jason Cross contributed to this story