Regional

Local elected reps respond to Bunting's leadership challenge

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor at Large, South/Central Bureau

Monday, June 17, 2019

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — After Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting created waves by announcing his decision to challenge for the presidency of the Opposition People's National Party, attention quickly turned to those supporting him.

At the local level, elected representatives in the PNP's Region Five (Manchester and St Elizabeth) have come under close scrutiny. Some were keeping their cards close to their chest when the Jamaica Observer Central asked questions, while several others couldn't be reached.

Some, led by Member of Parliament for Manchester Southern Michael Stewart, left no doubt by turning up at the Knockpatrick Divisional Conference a week ago, to publicly support Bunting.

Stewart joined the outspoken Dr Dayton Campbell, MP for St Ann North Western, in arguing that the party president Peter Phillips had failed to gain “traction” despite a spate of scandals afflicting the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government.

The PNP needed fresh leadership to have a chance of winning the next election and Bunting was best able to provide that, Stewart suggested.

Parliamentary elections are constitutionally due in 2021. However, Prime Minister Holness has the authority to send Jamaicans to the polls at any time before then. Many believe Holness will do so next year.

While he had not, up to then, had time to consult with his constituency executive and delegates, Stewart told comrades at the Knockpatrick conference that Manchester Southern will “not be left behind” in supporting Bunting.

Mayor of Mandeville and councillor for the Royal Flat Division, Donovan Mitchell, a leading figure in Bunting's Manchester Central constituency, spoke on behalf of the entire constituency executive in support of their MP. Councillors from the constituency and aspirants from the JLP controlled Knockpatrick Division joined Mitchell on the platform in solidarity with Bunting at the Knockpatrick meeting.

The Jamaica Observer Central made telephone contact with Mikael Phillips, MP for Manchester North Western and the son of Peter Phillips. The younger Phillips made clear his “disappointment” with Bunting's challenge to his father's leadership at a time when he said the PNP needed to be “united” as a “team” to defeat the JLP government whenever elections are called.

“The same money that Comrade Bunting will have to use to run an internal election could be used in the effort to defeat the JLP,” argued Phillips.

Ervin Facey, councillor for the Spur Tree Division in the Manchester North Western constituency, turned up at the Knockpatrick meeting and brought greetings. However, he told the Observer Central by telephone that he attended the meeting as a neutral. He had not yet taken a position in the upcoming contest for leadership of the PNP, he said.

It's expected that PNP delegates will cast their votes at an internal poll during the party's annual conference in September, though there are suggestions that a special delegates conference could be organised before then.

Councillor McArthur Collins representing the New Green Division of Manchester NW, who, like Facey, is a veteran in the Manchester Municipal Corporation, indicated by telephone that he needed to consult with delegates in his division before making a final decision.

“I have to listen to the people,” he said. However, from a “personal” perspective he questioned the wisdom of Bunting's challenge at this time. “I don't think the challenge is good for the party...,” said the veteran politician.

In St Elizabeth the lone PNP MP, Evon Redman (St Elizabeth North Eastern), could not be reached for comment.

However, former Mayor of Black River and councillor for the Balaclava Division Everton Fisher, and Layton Smith councillor for the Myersville Division were at the Knockpatrick conference to enthusiastically throw their weight behind Bunting.

“The basic reason for supporting Bunting is that we need to win, we need to defeat the JLP — and all the polls are saying [Phillips] cannot win,” Fisher told Observer Central. “I have nothing against Dr Phillips; I think he has served the party and country well and still has a contribution to make. But I think Bunting can make the party viable for an election victory,” he added.

Smith was equally forthcoming. “I think we need somebody fresh, with different ideas ... I have nothing against Dr Phillips but I think Bunting is the right man to lead...,” he said.

Councillor for the Braes River Division, Donovan Pagon, said he was keeping his options open and he would not attempt to sway his delegates one way or the other.

“It's a democratic party and it is well within the rights of Comrade Bunting to do what he has done, but I would leave it up to the delegates to make their choice. I will not interfere,” said Pagon.

As to his personal position, the councillor said “I am still considering...”


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