Thu | Aug 24, 2017

MPs back Phillips - PNP expected to vote for new leader February; Comrades in Parliament backing former minister, says Jackson

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dr Peter Phillips
Peter Bunting
Fitz Jackson
Ian Hayles
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Fitz Jackson yesterday claimed the support of the majority of the People's National Party's (PNP) 31 parliamentarians for Peter Phillips' third run for the party's presidency.

But Ian Hayles, a key backer of the other declared contestant, Peter Bunting, said that assertion, even if true, may be of little real worth, as proved to be the case for Phillips twice before - when he was among four people who sought the job on P.J. Patterson's retirement in 2006, and when he challenged the incumbent leader two years later.

Hayles, himself an MP and chairman of the PNP's Region Six, which covers western Jamaica, said that he was throwing his support behind 56-year-old Bunting, because he is younger, and Hayles is impressed by his past performance as the party's general secretary, and the energy he would bring to the job.

"I think that at this time, the PNP is ready for a leader in Comrade Peter Bunting. There's a problem where PNP people are not coming out to vote anymore. From where I sit, you need someone with the energy that can energise our base," said Hayles.

Simpson Miller, who turns 71 on December 12 and has been at the helm of the PNP for a decade, triggered a leadership race Sunday when she told the party's National Executive Council (NEC) that she would not seek re-election when her current mandate expires next September, ending months of speculation about her future. But barring something catastrophic, the PNP is expected to vote for its new leader as early as February or March, sources say.

While Bunting, earlier this year, openly signalled his ambition to succeed Simpson Miller and came close to challenging her, Phillips, 66, has been quietly putting in place his campaign infrastructure. Almost immediately after Simpson Miller's announcement, Jackson emerged as his campaign manager. The others declined to show their hands at this time.

"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary team will put, in a very open and explicit way, their support behind Comrade Phillips to succeed Comrade Portia Simpson Miller," Jackson, who backed Phillips' previous leadership bids, told The Gleaner. "Comrade Phillips is a very experienced, very respected leader."

Of a dozen PNP MPs The Gleaner canvassed on the

support yesterday, four, including Jackson, declared for Phillips, and one, Hayles, for Bunting, the Central Manchester parliamentarian.

"I am irrevocably committed to Comrade Phillips," said Phillip Paulwell, the Eastern Kingston and Port Royal MP, who heads the party's Region Three of Kingston and St Andrew. "That has been so since April/May. Whatever influence I have in my region, I intend to use it in support of Comrade Phillips."

Phillips' son, Mikael, Manchester North Western MP, was equally effusive about his father's candidacy.

He said: "What the future will hold for ... [Bunting], I can't say. But at this moment, I see my father as the right man for the job. The party has been going through its ups and downs, its soul-searching. The current party leader has left her mark. To take the party to that next level, with the experience and contribution that has been given by my father, I think he's the man for the job."

The other open Phillips supporter is St Catherine Eastern representative, Denise Daley. "I've always supported Dr Phillips," she said. "Peter, in my view, has been tested, proved and tried. I believe we really need a steady hand on the ship, somebody who can create that kind of environment to bring back the party together."

Three months ago, Dayton Campbell, St Ann North Western MP and Region One head, publicly declared his support for Phillips at a constituency conference. His response yesterday: "No comment!"

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com