Garwin Davis, Assistant News Editor
PEOPLE'S NATIONAL Party (PNP) vice-president and contender for leader of the party, Portia Simpson Miller has once again secured a key ally on the party's powerful National Executive Council (NEC) following a major political coup in Brown's Town, St. Ann last week.
According to PNP sources, while Mrs. Simpson Miller was busy assisting fellow leadership contender Dr. Omar Davies retain his position as Region Three Chairman last Sunday, her handlers were simultaneously orchestrating the ouster of one of Dr. Davies' key backers as chairman for Region One.
"Forget that love fest in Kingston, where Mrs. Simpson Miller literally managed Dr. Davies' campaign from the floor," one key party insider said. "While this was happening, to the chagrin of the Davies' campaign, Mrs. Simpson Miller's handlers were at the same time replacing the incumbent and staunch Omar backer Dr. Michael Wittingham with their man, Mark Campbell in Region One. This was a major coup for Mrs. Simpson Miller and a weakening of the position of Dr. Davies in the region. Portia now has a strong voice at the regional level and also someone to watch her back at the NEC."
STRONG BACKING OF DAVIES
Last Sunday, with the strong backing of Mrs. Simpson Miller, Dr. Davies turned back the challenge of Dr. Jepthah Ford, to retain the chairmanship of Region Three. Mrs. Simpson Miller's support for Dr. Davies, party sources say was born out of the fear that Dr. Ford's challenge was a move by the Dr. Peter Phillips' camp to have a candidate of their choice replace Dr. Davies as Region Three chairman.
"Why would we want to give Dr. Phillips such a leg-up in such a powerful region," one Simpson Miller handler asked.
Dr. Phillips is considered the main challenger to Mrs. Simpson Miller in the race to succeed Prime Minister P.J. Patterson as party president.
Mrs. Simpson Miller noted then that: "For the sake of party unity, I have to support my colleague". It was later learnt, however, that despite the talk of unity, Mrs. Simpson Miller's supporters removed Dr. Wittingham from the position of chairman, paving the way for Mr. Campbell to represent her on the NEC. Mr. Campbell last week defeated Mr. Wittingham in Brown's Town to become the new chairman for Region One, comprising the parishes of St. Ann and Trelawny.
"It was a carefully-planned move," another of Mrs Simpson Miller's handlers noted. "Dr. Wittingham, despite trying to come across as neutral, was in fact a strong supporter of Dr. Davies. This was even more evident when Tourism Minister and staunch Dr. Davies supporter Aloun Assamba literally pleaded to the delegates to allow Dr. Wittingham to remain as chairman. Since Richard Azan lost his position on the NEC earlier this year, we had to get someone there. In Mark Campbell, we have the person we so badly needed." Mr. Azan is a member of the Simpson Miller campaign team.
AN UNEXPECTED VICTORY
When it became obvious that the Campbell challenge was real, Mrs. Assamba made an impassioned plea to delegates to keep Wittingham on as chairman. The delegates, led by some of her own councillors and also former caretaker for North-East St. Ann, Carol Jackson, would have none of it however, giving Campbell an unexpected victory. Repeated efforts to reach the minister and also Dr. Wittingham, were unsuccessful.
Mr. Campbell, who admits to being a Simpson Miller backer, said yesterday his selection should not be viewed as 'dissing' either Dr. Davies or Dr. Wittingham. "The challenge was somewhat unexpected, yes, but Dr. Wittingham remains a good friend and colleague," he said. "What this means now is that he will be able to concentrate on the constituency and prepare to challenge the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) incumbent Verna Parchment."
Mr. Campbell said his victory will give Mrs. Simpson Miller a stronger stay in the region.
"This is also a wake-up call to those who believe the delegates can be influenced. Gone are the days when they simply carry out the orders of the party hierarchy. If this is not a wake-up call, then I don't know what is," he said.Analysts predict crisis in the PNP
POLITICAL ANALYSTS are predicting that while the scenario appears unlikely, there is still a good chance that the People's National Party (PNP) could see one of its leadership contenders emerging as party leader and another as Prime Minister of Jamaica.
This they argue would not only put the PNP in a "political crisis" but would also lend credence to those who have been agitating for the post of party president to be independent of the position of prime minister. They also note that there is more than ample evidence to suggest that maybe for the first time within the PNP the party hierarchy and the delegates "could be going in separate directions". Former leadership contender Paul Burke has been advocating for both positions to be held by different persons.
Under the Jamaican Constitution, in the event of the death, resignation or removal of the prime minister or Opposition leader from office, it is the members of Parliament from either party who recommend to the Governor-General the person who best enjoys their confidence. This is done independently of the political parties or their delegates.
Former mayor of Montego Bay now turned political analyst Shalman Scott, however, sees the PNP race as a rerun of 1992 when P.J. Patterson defeated Mrs. Simpson-Miller.
"It is important to note that even before the delegates voted, the word got out that then speaker of the house Headley Cunningham had indicated to the Governor-General that the parliamentary group had thrown its weight behind P.J. Patterson.
No sooner had the word got out to the delegates as to what the intention of the parliamentary group was than they then immediately went overwhelmingly for Patterson who at the time was trailing in the opinion poll." Mr. Patterson defeated Mrs. Simpson-Miller in 1992, replacing the ailing Michael Manley as party president and also as Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Asked whether he saw the possibility of the party president and the prime minister being two separate persons, Mr. Scott said that while it was possible, he still believed it was highly unlikely.
"The only time that the delegates will act independently of the MPs and constituency caretakers is when there is a deterioration and breakdown of that relationship to an irretrievable level. They usually will go where the MPs and constituency caretakers are going."