Battle for the chair - Tony vs Fitz as PNP elects its first new chairman in 25 years
Long-serving deputy Chairman Anthony Hylton, and Fitz Jackson, a key confidant of the party's relatively new president, Dr Peter Phillips, will square off in a historic race today as the People's National Party (PNP) elects its first new chairman in 25 years.
Approximately 300 members of the PNP's National Executive Council (NEC) are eligible to vote as the party replaces Robert Pickersgill, who has been dubbed 'Chairman for Life' after serving 14 years under P.J. Patterson and 10-plus years under Portia Simpson Miller, and the last five months under Phillips.
Hylton, the member of parliament for St Andrew Western, has served for a decade as Pickersgill's deputy while Jackson, the member of parliament for St Catherine South, is looking to join the upper echelon of the PNP, having established himself as a key member of Phillips' inner circle.
In a recent letter to members of the NEC seeking their support, Jackson touted his skills as he noted that he has served on that body for the last 30 years.
"I can assure you that during my tenure as chairman I will at all times endeavour to ensure that our party commands the respect it deserves, while promoting the rich legacy handed down to us all, and creating a better Jamaica," said Jackson.
In the meantime, Hylton told The Sunday Gleaner he has served for 34 years as NEC member and has served in several capacities, local and overseas for the PNP.
"I am the best prepared. I have served as deputy for 10 years and I have set out a very clear set of ideas on the modernisation of the chairmanship of the party. The position has to be modernised and the way we communicate has to change.
"New challenges, technologies and the present challenges the party faces were all foretold in the Progressive Agenda document. But I don't think the leadership was alive to the issues," said Hylton.
Overtaken by social media
According to Hylton, "Because of the posture adopted by the party, the whole issue of social media overtook us and we have been exposed to a serious set of (communication) challenges, and the party has been coming from behind since."
Today's meeting of the PNP's NEC will be held at St Mary High School in Central St Mary against the backdrop of a looming by-election in the neighbouring constituency of South East St Mary.
Following the death of the Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Winston Green, the PNP has been pulling out all the stops to ensure that it keeps hold of the constituency whenever the by-election is called, while the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has targeted the seat which it lost by five votes the last time around.
The PNP is expected to be represented by Dr Shane Alexis while Dr Norman Dunn, who suffered that close defeat in 2016, is slated to represent the JLP.
The retiring Pickersgill has been made 'Chairman emeritus', the party has announced. On Sunday during the public session of the 79th annual conference of the party, he was saluted for giving sterling contribution to the party, serving as chairman through retired leaders P.J. Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller.
Simpson Miller praised Pickersgill, who she said served the PNP all of his professional and political life, which she declared as an unrepayable contribution.
Pickersgill served 11 years under her leadership, and 14 years under Patterson's leadership.
Calling him the quintessential Comrade, Simpson Miller said he would have given his life for the great PNP party. She wished him well in his retirement.
Pickersgill performed his final task as chairman on Sunday.