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Roger set up PNP revival with Cornwall Mountain win

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (right) consoles Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture at the arrival of the body of former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke at the Norman Manley International Airport last Wednesday.-Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (left), former prime minister PJ Patterson and Roger Clarke's widow, Sonia, in a contemplative mood as they view the flag-drapped coffin with Clarke's remains at the Norman Manley International Airport last Wednesday.
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Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE GOVERNING People's National Party (PNP) might not have tasted election victories in 2011 and 2012 had Roger Clarke not propelled the party, over the hill and into the winner's enclosure in the Cornwall Mountain by-election in 2009.

Peter Bunting, the party's general secretary at the time, said in Parliament last Tuesday that Clarke, who was buried yesterday, had declared that "if it took every last dollar he had he was going to finance the by-election himself".

"It was admirable, except it also seems he was willing to use every last dollar I had to fight that election as well," added Bunting.

The PNP's candidate, Bernard Vanriel, faced off against and beat the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Keith Barnes in the by-election by 182 votes.

Karl Samuda, who was the JLP's general secretary, said his party would have won the seat had it not been for Clarke and Bunting whose collective strategy resulted in a flood of PNP supporters turning out to vote for Vanriel.

Reversed electoral fortunes

Bunting, who was among MPs giving tributes to the late agriculture minister, said "Cornwall Mountain was a particular watershed. That by-election came at a time when we had lost a number of by-elections and frankly, morale was low and Roger decided that we were going to take a stand at Cornwall Mountain and we were going to reverse the electoral successes of the JLP," said Bunting.

Having lost the 2007 general election, PNP President Portia Simpson Miller would taste three more defeats at the polls. She led the party into electoral losses in the December 2007 local government elections, and again in by-elections in West Portland and North East St Catherine.

Following defeat in North East St Catherine, Bunting found himself in hot water after he took to social media and posted Albert Einstein's: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results" immediately after the party's defeat.

He followed that with Martin Luther King's "A genuine leader doesn't reflect consensus, he moulds consensus".

Bunting later denied that the comments had been aimed at Simpson Miller or were intended to criticise the party's tactics for fighting those elections.

"History will show that it (Cornwall Mountain) was indeed a turning point. If we had lost that by-election in our strongest parish, I think it would have dealt a serious blow and when we got that one, it rekindled the spirit and the energy," Bunting said.

Fired up to win

He added that Clarke was fired up to win the election, not just because of the love for the PNP and that Cornwall Mountain fell in his Central Westmoreland constituency, but also because, "he wanted to ensure that the party leader did not have another disappointment".

Subsequent to victory in Cornwall Mountain, the PNP won the 2011 general election and the local government election the following year. It, however, lost the Cassia Park by-election in East Central St Andrew, and is now planning for by-elections in Portmore, St Catherine, mayoral race.

A by-election to replace Clarke in Central Westmoreland is also on the cards with local government polls due by next March.