Columns

Bunting's calculated risk may need divine intervention

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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NO one who has been following Jamaican politics in recent times would have been surprised at Peter Bunting's decision to challenge Dr Peter Phillips for the presidency of the People's National Party (PNP). He had made his intentions known for some time having deferred his intention to lead the party in favour of Phillips in the past. Now he believes that the time has come to pursue his ambition.

In doing so he has thrown the PNP in a tizzy. There is a sense of disquiet and anxiety in the party. There are those who believe that Bunting's challenge at this time is ill-informed and should not have been done. Those who hold this line believe it will unnecessarily further divide the party at a time when the popular Andrew Holness, prime minister and leader of the governing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), may be emboldened to call a snap election. There are few who would defend the PNP's readiness to succeed in such an election at this time.

Still, there are others who believe that the challenge is the right thing to do. They argue that under Dr Phillips the party has been limping and lacks the kind of energy and foresight that an Opposition party should have. They think it is burdened with a lot of political maladies that are impatient of healing. In Bunting they see someone who they can rely on to restore the fortunes of the party. They think that as a younger person he will be able to command the respect and support of the young people who have grown disillusioned with the old guard, which seems committed to protecting a decaying and moribund status quo.

Whatever the thinking of the disparate elements in the party the battle for the presidency has been engaged and only time will reveal the winner.

There is no doubt that there is a great deal that ails the PNP. A once proud party has been reduced to a quarrelsome camp which seems incapable of getting its act together. The party hardly speaks with a united voice on matters of national importance. There is a great divide between the old and younger members. The old guard seems destined to protect things as they are, while the younger ones want to see radical change in the party even if this should result in the removal of the entire leadership. There is the strong belief that the creaking infrastructure of the party's machinery is no match for the feisty JLP. Add to this the matter of the financial weakness of the party to do the things that are necessary. Traditional supporters do not seem disposed to offer robust financial health to a party that often behaves that it is in intensive care.

In the context of all this, Peter the Younger (Peter Bunting) believes he can offer a credible and enduring path forward. I suspect that no one will call on a priest to offer them political advice, but if Peter the Younger had asked my advice I would have told him that this might not have been the best time to mount a challenge against Peter the Elder (Peter Phillips). He might have held off and allow the Elder to go into the next general election. There is the strong possibility that the JLP will prevail in that election. If this should be the case, the elder Peter would have to step down, especially since age is not his best ally.

Then it would be more credible for the Younger to join the fray with others and campaign for the presidency. Perhaps he is gambling on the fact that mounting a challenge at this time would leave him as the only person challenging Phillips. At this point there is no indication that others will jump in. If Phillips loses the general election Bunting would have to be contending with a crowded field, as it would be an open season. Perhaps he thinks that a challenge at this time will leave the field all to himself.

If Phillips should prevail and go on to lose the election, Peter the Younger will be blamed for this electoral loss. He would be blamed for dividing the party. This would be especially so if Holness takes advantage of a fractured PNP and calls a snap election and goes on to win. Bunting would then become a virtual pariah in the party.

If he becomes the new leader of the party and goes up against Holness and loses he will be of all men most miserable. He would have done an incalculable harm to his political career. He would have lost his first general election as party leader and, at the same time, further inflame the sensibilities of those who thought that his challenge of Phillips was misplaced. He would have to fight the turmoil that would erupt in the party and certainly would be presiding over an even more fractured and disillusioned party.

One is not saying he is not highly and eminently qualified to challenge Phillips to become the new leader of the party. But, as he knows, in politics timing is of the essence. He is a man who believes in divine intervention. He will have to pray that, having challenged Phillips, Holness does not call a snap election. He ought to further pray that if he succeeds against Phillips he can go on to win the general election, because if he should not his promising career in politics would have come to an inglorious end.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com


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