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BUNTING COULD STILL RISE - PNP Insider Says Former MP's Hand Not Dead As Party Searches For Phillips' Successor


Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Image caption: File File Dr Peter Phillips (left), who is on the road to retirement, seen in this March file photo with Peter Bunting, the man many saw as Phillips’ successor who was rejected by Manchester Central voters in last week’s election.

Investment banker-turned-politician Mark Golding has emerged as a strong contender to take over as president of the People’s National Party (PNP) as Dr Peter Phillips goes into retirement.

But PNP insiders have been quick to caution that it will not be an automatic coronation, with several senior officials, including General Secretary Julian Robinson, Vice-President Mikael Phillips, and Treasurer Lisa Hanna weighing their options.

Mikael Phillips is the son of the current president, who announced last Friday that he would be stepping down after leading the 82-year-old political organisation to a landslide defeat in Thursday’s general election.

One PNP insider suggested, too, that there was still a path to the presidency for Peter Bunting, who lost his Manchester Central seat almost a year after unsuccessfully challenging Dr Phillips for the leadership of the party.

Golding’s Rise

“It (losing his seat) does not rule him out if you remember that Bruce Golding was leader of the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) without a seat,” said the insider.

In 2005, then JLP leader Edward Seaga had resigned as Opposition leader and Bruce Golding, after a failed attempt with creating a third political force in Jamaica, the National Democratic Movement, had returned to the JLP as the leader-in-waiting while Dr Ken Baugh acted as Opposition leader.

“So, it’s not that there is no precedent. So, in theory, Bunting could, but I don’t know if Bunting would.”

When contacted, the former Manchester Central MP did not reveal his thoughts.

“I am taking a few days to reflect on last Thursday’s outcome before I make any public comment,” Bunting told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.

While acknowledging that it was still early days, persons close to the PNP parliamentary group revealed that Mark Golding’s name has dominated discussions about the next PNP president.

“I see a lot of persons promoting Mark Golding [within the PNP parliamentary group] as the Opposition leader, but ... that has not been arrived at by any process,” a PNP source told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.

Mark Golding, who easily retained his St Andrew Southern seat to earn his first full term as member of parliament, gave no insight into his political ambitions when contacted yesterday.

“I am not ready to discuss that,” he said.

Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner that he was aware of calls within the party for him to take up the mantle of president, but said he was not ready to make any decision.

“I have heard the calls and I am reflecting and in discussions and consultations. I will make a determination about what I do,” he said. “That’s all I will say at this time.”

Hanna, who has reportedly told colleagues that she will be offering herself for president, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

For now, Hanna, a former Miss World, has a tenuous hold on her St Ann South Eastern constituency after eking out a 32-vote win over her JLP challenger Delroy Granston, based on the official recount yesterday.

Attorneys for the Jamaica Labour Party are scheduled to meet today to decide whether to seek a magisterial recount

Polarising Figure

But even before any confirmation, Hanna’s reported interest in becoming PNP president has been greeted with some scepticism by party insiders who, while describing her as articulate, see her as a polarising figure.

“Miss Hanna has her friends and her detractors. It wouldn’t be as easy for her to function as a unifying voice. She is quite articulate. I don’t know about the depth of intellectual rigour and processes that is required,” one insider opined.

Assessing the field of PNP presidential aspirants, the Reverend Garnett Roper, a political commentator who acknowledged that he has done consultancy work for the party in the past, believes Hanna is “very politically vulnerable”.

Roper believes Mark Golding would be the perfect “bridge candidate” to take over as interim PNP president and leader of the Opposition, at least until the question of Bunting’s political future is resolved.

“He is in a solid seat that is not likely to be overturned any time soon. He’s very conscious, progressive and would be prepared. He’s been the centre of many things [and] he’s a bridge candidate between what was the One PNP and the Rise United people and does have very good pedigree and competence,” said Roper.

Bunting’s Rise United campaign was defeated by Dr Phillips’ One PNP team in the PNP presidential election last September.

“If you ask me who I would choose, I would choose Mark Golding … with a view for the delegates to select Peter Bunting because he could hit the ground running,” he added.

Robert Pickersgill, who served as PNP chairman for more than two decades, told The Sunday Gleaner he was “very clear” about who he is supporting, but said he would not make that public.

“I will exercise that say in the appropriate arena,” he said.

Roper believes six months is sufficient time for the PNP to identify and install its next president so the party can go about the task of rebuilding and rebranding.

On Friday, Dr Phillips announced that he had written to PNP Chairman Fitz Jackson, asking that the party executive make the necessary arrangements as soon as is practicable to elect a new president.

The PNP usually has its annual conference in September, but with restrictions on gatherings and COVID-19 spreading rapidly, he was unable to say exactly how a new president would be chosen.

“I intend, until a new leader is elected, to exercise all the responsibilities that attach to the office of president of the People’s National Party, which includes leader of the Opposition,” Dr Phillips said during a brief press conference.

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