Peter Bunting has confirmed that he intends to challenge Dr Peter Phillips for the position of President of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) at its next annual conference in September of this year.
Bunting made the announcement in a statement that was released on Saturday evening, in which he detailed his reasons for seeking to replace Phillips.
According to Bunting, a former general secretary of the PNP, the party’s popularity has waned since the defeat in the 2016 General Elections, which he cited as resulting from Phillips’ unattractiveness as a leader.
Bunting said the party’s internal mechanism subsequently attributed the electoral loss to four reasons, a situation which he said has worsened, with the latest indication of this being the loss by its representative, Damion Crawford, in the East Portland by-election on April 4.
Bunting, who has held various other positions within the party over an extended period, said he believes the time is right to clarify the leadership situation in the party, since different polls have indicated that Phillips’ leadership standing has fallen.
According to Bunting, stakeholders and followers within the party and national stakeholders and organisations have lost interest in the PNP, and he will be embarking on a strategic move in the upcoming weeks to engage all, to get a consensus on the way forward.
He confirmed speculation that his decision to decline a key leadership position within the party recently, was as a result of his intention to position himself
for the challenge to Phillips.
If the challenge materialises, it will be the third battle that Phillips will be involved in for the leadership of the party. He unsuccessfully challenged former Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, twice, but assumed the leadership of the PNP when she stepped down after the 2016 election loss.
The leadership of the PNP has been a major issue since PJ Patterson left the party as Prime Minister in 2006, with Simpson Miller defeating Phillips in the party’s internal election to become PNP President and Prime Minister.
Unlike after the 1992 internal party election in which Patterson defeated Simpson Miller to take control after Prime Minister Michael Manley demitted office, and remained in control until he left, Simpson Miller faced a second challenge from Phillips in 2008.
Below is the full statement from Peter Bunting.
“Since our party’s East Portland by-election loss, there has been increasing speculation about both the desirability and the likelihood of a change in leadership of the PNP. Uncertainty can be debilitating for a political movement, and an undeclared campaign is already starting to develop in social media and among party members. For good order and transparency, it is best that this speculation be put to rest as soon as possible.
“Therefore, I confirm that I am offering myself for president of the People’s National Party at the annual conference in September. This is a carefully considered decision which I believe to be in the best interest of the party and the country.
Peter Bunting in Parliament.
“After the 2016 General Election defeat, an appraisal committee was established to determine the reasons for the loss. The four findings of the appraisal report were that:
1. The party was arrogant and took the electorate for granted. ?
2. There was a breakdown of trust among elements of the leadership leading into the ?campaign. ?
3. The party’s message did not communicate hope, and was incoherent. ?
4. The party’s organisation was not election-ready. ?
“Our performance in East Portland confirmed that there has been no demonstrable improvement to the areas recognised as deficient and contributing to our electoral defeat, in the 2016 appraisal report.
“Any objective analysis using either quantitative or qualitative approaches will show that there has been further decline in the PNP’s electoral competitiveness since 2016.
“Dr Phillips has made an outstanding contribution to the party and the country in the various positions in which he has served over the past three decades. However, since becoming president, he has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party, and is just not seen as the right person for this time.
“There is also a growing acceptance/resignation in the general public and among various stakeholder groups, including party membership and supporters, civil society and private sector leadership, that the PNP under Dr Peter Phillips’ leadership, cannot defeat the JLP in a general election. This will have negative consequences for voter support, organisational energy and party/campaign funding.
“The above sentiment is confirmed by party, media, and private polling, which all show weakness or deterioration in Dr Phillips’ standing. Polls further suggest that the party would gain a huge boost with new leadership.
Dr Peter Phillips in Parliament.
“I share the belief that new leadership is the best course for the party.
“In the circumstances, therefore, I could not in sincerity accept any position (that was) recently offered.
“In the coming weeks I will be engaging various stakeholders within the party and in the wider society to discuss the strategic direction in which I would lead the political movement that is the PNP, to hear their concerns and suggestions and to finalise a contemporary, relevant political platform grounded in the foundational principles of our movement.
“A core support team will establish the campaign committee and supporting structures.
“We have adopted the campaign slogan, ‘Rise United’, as a signal of our determination to tackle the factionalism that has afflicted the party for a long time.
“There is a rising tide within the party which is rejecting the status quo and insisting on real change. An insightful excerpt from Michael Manley’s final interviews documented in the book, ‘Truth Be Told’, speaks to our contemporary situation:
“’The PNP’s historical role has always been the architect of change... Somebody has to be the agent of change. To think about change and betterment; how to do it, inspire towards it, jook and prod and upset people as you achieve it. Somebody has to do that. Right now the PNP is very much a sedate manager for a set of givens. If the whole political system becomes incapable of renewal through challenge, and I put it that way deliberately, then you’re going to find that the system will begin to lose credibility, lose momentum; young people will have less and less faith in it, and the terrible cynicism which is such a problem in Jamaica today can become entrenched,’” the Manley quote suggested.
Bunting’s statement further detailed the basis for his latest decision, with supporting documentation being presented with on-the-ground, circumstantial references to the issues which he said led to the decision.