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From PM to backbenches?

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Dr Peter Phillips is expected to be elected the new president of the People's National Party on March 26.

With no fixed timetables for by-elections to fill vacant seats in the House of Representatives, outgoing president of the People's National Party (PNP), Portia Simpson Miller, could be moving to the back benches of Parliament, unless she becomes a spokesperson in the shadow Cabinet of the next opposition leader.

Simpson Miller yesterday announced that she will resign as opposition leader, effective April 2, but remain member of parliament for St Andrew South West, which she has represented since 1976 - except for the years 1983-1989 when the PNP did not contest the snap election of 1983.

"She has said she will remain as member of parliament for a further date to be determined. We have had no discussion with the Government as to a possible by-election date," Robinson told The Gleaner after yesterday's National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, held at Hatfield Primary and Junior High School in Manchester.

According to Robinson, the issue of by-elections is one of several the party wishes to discuss with the Government.

"We haven't begun those discussions. There are a couple of issues that arise from it. One of the things we want to do is to not just have it (by-elections) at the discretion of the prime minister, that whenever there is an occasion of a resignation or a death, that there is a stipulated time period in which a by-election can be held," Robinson said.

His sentiments come two weeks after those expressed by Dr Peter Phillips in an interview with The Gleaner.


Phillips wants ROPA amendment to fix parliamentary by-election time frame

Dr Peter Phillips, who is expected to become the next president of the People's National Party (PNP), has expressed the view that, if a fixed timetable was in place for by-elections for the House of Representatives, several politicians on both sides would have bowed out already.

In addition, with no fixed time frame, citizens in the constituency are left without representation.

"It would be wrong for people to be denied the right of representation simply to suit the partisan interest of a particular prime minister," said Phillips, the opposition spokesman on finance and planning, in a recent interview with The Gleaner. He subsequently called for the appropriate legislative amendment.

Phillips' view is widely believed to be the reason Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, member of parliament (MP) for St Andrew South West; Dr Omar Davies, MP for St Andrew South and Derrick Kellier, MP for St James Southern, have not yet stepped away.

Given the one-seat majority for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), it is unlikely that any of the three will step away soon, giving the Government a four-seat breathing space in the House.

Davies' successor has already been chosen, with Senator Mark Golding selected by delegates last year.

However, the JLP is believed to be more interested in the seat held by Kellier, which he won last February with a slim majority.

"What I would like to see is the appropriate amendment to the laws (Representation of the People Act) that would bring the issue of parliamentary vacancies into line with the general principles that applies with respect to municipal authorities," Phillips said, admitting that both parties while in government have failed to respect the existing provisions.

"I can't say that it has always been observed on any side, and people have treated it this way. And it is wrong. People have a right to representation."