Thu | Sep 24, 2020

NOT QUITTING - Opposition senators have no plan to leave when Phillips steps down

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2020 | 12:16 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Gabriela Morris is greeted by Donna Scott Mottley after being sworn in as an opposition senator at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston on Tuesday. Morris, 23, created history as the youngest member appointed to the Jamaican Upper House.

Several opposition senators have disclosed that they have not considered resigning their posts to give a new party president a free hand when Dr Peter Phillips steps down.

But it is unclear whether that position will open a new round of conflict in the People’s National Party (PNP) which suffered a shellacking at the polls on September 3 under the superintendence of an unpopular Phillips, who is also the opposition leader.

New clashes could unfold in the wake of Monday’s ultimatum in the PNP Youth Organisation’s terse missive hastening Phillips’ exit with a 30-day deadline, under the signature of its president Krystal Tomlinson.

The PNPYO president’s demand for renewal – echoing a stifled call she made in April 2019 – appeared to ruffle Phillips’ feathers on Tuesday, drawing the rebuke of the elder statesman that the group was immature and ignorant of procedure.

Commenting on the leaked letter, Phillips shot back that the leadership of the PNPYO “needs some more experience and regard for how the party operates and that they must recognise that their actions have not helped the process, the party, or themselves”.

Leader of opposition business in the Senate, Donna Scott Mottley, said there has been no discussion on resignations among those confirmed on its side of the political aisle.

Scott Mottley said that it would have been out of place for the opposition members to be concentrating on personalities in an evolving leadership drama when the new Senate was only constituted on Tuesday. But she said that tradition dictated that the Phillips slate would not quit.

“There is precedent in the PNP that senators are not required to resign by a new leader. When Portia Simpson Miller stepped down, Mark Golding was the leader of opposition business in the Senate and all senators continued,” she said.

The Jamaican Constitution does not give a prime minister or opposition leader unfettered licence to deselect appointed senators, a position that Andrew Holness came to accept when the Court of Appeal ruled in 2015 that his attempt, two years earlier, to boot Dr Christopher Tufton and Arthur Williams from the Upper House – via undated, presigned letters of resignation – was unconstitutional.

Phillips had indicated in the aftermath of the bruising September 3, 2020 general election defeat that he would resign to give a new leader a free hand. No timeline has been set for his departure.

Scott Mottley said that she could not pronounce on the possibility that a new leader, when selected, might want to go against the established practice.

“At that time, certainly I would get my senators together and we would have a discussion around the issue, but I frankly do not anticipate it because we are all loyal supporters who are committed to the legislative work that we do,” she said.

But Phillips’ Senate picks include loyalists such as Dr Floyd Morris, Damion Crawford, and Lambert Brown, who were fierce critics of the September 2019 leadership challenge by Peter Bunting, who lost an internal battle by less than three per cent of the vote.

Bunting, the heir apparent, lost his Manchester Central seat to young upstart Rhoda Crawford of the Jamaica Labour Party earlier this month.

Opposition senators interviewed by The Gleaner on Tuesday said they would discharge their duties irrespective of who is chosen as the new party leader.

Firebrand senator Brown said that it is a bridge he is willing to cross if a decision must be made.

“Simply put, in the meantime, until a new leader is elected, we are focused on the work to be done in the Senate every week and that’s where we are at.

“If a new leader wishes to make appointments, when he or she sits in the chair, then it is up to that person to make such a request. I will make myself available to serve, as I have in taking the oath today,” Brown said.

Senator Floyd Morris said that he has not yet contemplated stepping aside as he is serving as part of the leadership transition in the party.

“We will see when we get there. I am not there yet when we speak of resignation. This is the first day of the opening of the new parliamentary term so I don’t want to go down that road yet because there are a number of internal discussions taking place and I just want to allow the process to evolve,” Morris said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com