Sat | Jul 4, 2020

Phillips sends ominous warning to ‘Gang of 15’

Published:Monday | June 1, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Phillips... There is a group and we need to know where their head is. When we know, we will do what we have to do.
Jovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter

As another bout of fractiousness racks the 81-year-old People’s National Party (PNP), its beleaguered president Dr Peter Phillips has given an ominous warning to the ‘Gang of 15’.

“There is a group and we need to know where their head is. When we know, we will do what we have to do,” Phillips told The Gleaner on Monday night.

Pressed to explain his comment, Phillips offered no further word, climbing into his SUV and departing the grounds of The Mico University College in Kingston.

The party’s executive meeting had just ended, the first gathering of the PNP hierarchy since Friday’s revelation about a letter signed by 15 members of parliament (MPs) demanding a meeting of the Parliamentary caucus by today to discuss the future of the party.

Most of the signatories had backed Manchester Central MP Peter Bunting in his failed 2019 bid to oust Phillips from the leadership of the party.

In the letter, the 15 MPs pointed to the lack of a meeting of the PNP MPs since Phillips disclosed that he had cancer.

They also demanded that a meeting be held before today.

That meeting is now scheduled for Monday, June 8 but the time and location are still to be decided, said PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson.

On party insider told The Gleaner that Bunting was never going to just command the leader and get what he wanted, adding that setting a date for the meeting prevents any attempt to rush to King’s House.

There was speculation that Opposition MPs supporting Bunting would trigger the constitutional provision that could lead to the Governor General revoking Phillips' appointment on the basis that he would not have commanded the majority support of opposition legislators in the Lower House.

The public messaging from the Phillips backers is that only a “meeting” was requested, further arguing that it should not be seen as a court in which the president will be tried with sure conviction given that Bunting seemingly has the majority MPs in his corner.

Robinson admitted that this latest development indicates that more needs to be done to unify the factions in the party.

“There’s clearly work we have to do and we are committed to doing it,” he said. “We recognise that we have to be a united party to present to the electorate.”

The Sunday Gleaner has reported that the letter from the MPs was a pre-emptive strike against Phillips’ team, which has been holding “secret meetings” with his supporters to
agree on an interim Opposition leader as the incumbent goes through cancer treatment.

Lisa Hanna, Phillip Paulwell, Damion Crawford and Wykeham McNeill were among contenders for interim leader with Hanna the apparent front runner, The Gleaner has since learned.

With the coronavirus not going away anytime soon, the relaxation of restrictions and the long-term economic fallout, analysts believe the ruling Jamaica Labour Party is again getting ready for a general election.

Phillips, though, has not been reaping positive results in most polls done since he ascended the leadership and even after staving off Bunting by 76 votes in last year’s internal poll.

Neither has the party been able to make significant inroads on the JLP even with the various scandals that have bedevilled the Holness administration.

It's why some sources in the PNP believe the 'gang of 15' may have become agitated.

Other major developments coming from the PNP's meeting include the confirmation of Raymond Pryce as the party's standard bearer in St Catherine East Central; Keith Brown in St Ann North East; Donald Jackson in Manchester North East and George Hamilton in St James North West.

That means the party now has its full slate of 63 candidates to contest a general election.

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