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Phillips in danger zone - Speculation mounts as Bunting turns down PNP campaign director position

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:36 AMRomario Scott - Gleaner Writer

People’s National Party (PNP) bigwigs lining up behind Peter Bunting for an anticipated challenge to Dr Peter Phillips’ reign as president of the party have flatly dismissed criticisms that the current leader should remain unobstructed.

Bunting’s allies point to Phillips’ two failed attempts in 2006 and 2008 to replace former PNP President Portia Simpson Miller to lead the 81-year-old party.

The defence comes as The Sunday Gleaner understands that Bunting, the Central Manchester member of parliament (MP), has rejected a deal pitched by Phillips for him to become the party’s campaign director.

“If there is any challenge – I put it no stronger than that at this time – neither him (Phillips) nor his supporters must complain that there could be a challenge. I don’t want to hear that because he didn’t take [challenging] once for it, he did so twice, and everybody knows how determined he was to take over the PNP from Sister P (Simpson Miller) in those times. So, I don’t want to hear no complaining,” a senior PNP MP close to Bunting, who did not want to be identified, told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday.

“Mr Bunting has not made up his mind yet, but it is not to say that we won’t, but there are many considerations, as you would imagine,” the source added.

Phillips, 69, last week confirmed reports by sources that there was a meeting held between himself and Bunting, at which the latter was made an offer to become the party’s campaign director for the next general election, which is constitutionally due by the end of 2021.

That meeting was seen by some in the PNP as a barefaced attempt to butter up Bunting and prevent any leadership challenge.

However, Phillips and his camp are insisting that there was no self-serving motivation behind the move.

Challenge would not be ‘an issue’

Phillips himself has said a challenge would not be “an issue”, but he was focusing on his day-to-day role as party president.

“You know that is a sensitive issue. I don’t want to say much on it, but what I can say is that if any such thing should happen at this time, it would be totally unfortunate, and I would resist it. Why I would resist it is because it is not in the best interest of the party at this time, notwithstanding what the constitution says,” a Philips supporter, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive position he holds within the PNP, told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.

Phillips’ current position, however, runs contrary to his stated position at an April National Executive Council meeting, where he said he did not want to be looking over his shoulders as he fought the Jamaica Labour Party amid reports that influential party members were plotting to overthrow him.

Bunting, in 2016, had previously emerged as a challenger for the PNP presidency. However, strident political moves by Phillips’ camp led to a fizzling of the effort.