Today, Saturday, September 15, is D-Day for the second-tier leadership of the People’s National Party.
The party is in the throes of its annual conference and six candidates are vying for four vice-presidential spots; a lot is at stake for some of those who have put themselves forward.
Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dr Angela Brown Burke, Dr Wykeham McNeil, Phillip Paulwell, Mikael Phillips and Damian Crawford are all vying for the coveted spots to sit on Dr Peter Phillips’ right and left hands.
On the public face of it, the campaign seems to have been conducted in good spirit but word is that it has been a muddy slugfest behind the scenes.
It is no secret that there are candidates on the slate who cannot bear to be in the same room with each other, among them Damian Crawford and Dr Brown-Burke who have had some nasty public dustups.
The delegates will decide by way of ballot and this process is expected to run quite smoothly as the PNP, like the JLP, has successfully tested their strong democratic traditions time and again.
It will be a close race despite some candidates having clear advantages. For example, incumbent Dr Fenton Ferguson is expected to emerge top of the slate. He is one of the most senior politicians in the party and multiple-return Member of Parliament. He has played a very careful hand over the years while controversy brewed around him and he has a strong connection with the delegates.
On the other hand, young and ambitious newcomer Damian Crawford does not have a solid delegate base. While he appears to be popular nationally, he is also very light on policy and his self-inflicted wounds due to his shenanigans will not be lost on the more senior delegates, many of whom have expressed the view that he needs to wait his turn and display more maturity. It will be interesting to see if the popularity sentiment will be able to take him across the line.
Mikael Phillips, son of the leader, might find that the anti-generational sentiment that is sweeping across Jamaican politics is an impediment. Whether his father’s influence will be heavy enough to bear upon his fortunes will be seen. He is a bright, young politician but he has not yet distinguished himself enough to displace any of the three incumbents and it is hard to see him getting around Phillip Paulwell. The experience of the race will be good for his political future.
Incumbent Dr. Angella Brown-Burke is in a sticky situation. Not only does she have the Crawford factor to contend with, there is also the matter of Phillip Paulwell. They will be competing fiercely for the Corporate Area delegates and Paulwell is a veteran in the powerful region. Brown-Burke’s fortunes will also not be helped by the fallout which resulted from the contentious exercise which saw her replacing Portia Simpson Miller as MP for South Western St. Andrew. Observers say the delegates are still bitter that the standard bearer for the area was surpassed in her favour. But Brown-Burke is no stranger to the vice-presidential post and she has been campaigning heavily.
Phillip Paulwell is perhaps Jamaica’s most fortuitous politician. Despite being associated with numerous corruption scandals over decades, he remains a relevant force within the PNP and always has a trick up his sleeve. He should make the final slate.
Incumbent Dr. Wykeham McNeil’s re-election is a mere formality. He is a seasoned politician who doesn’t carry baggage and he has been an effective minister and leader of the troops in Western Jamaica. He will have the support of most of the delegates from the western regions.
Whatever the outcome, the PNP will be hoping that the new slate of VPs will be able to provide strong support to Dr. Phillips. The country needs a strong, balanced and reasoned Opposition. The PNP does not represent that at the moment. It is largely reactive and seems devoid of alternative policy ideas. With some hope, the new slate of VPs will help to change the image of the party from a pack of frustrated wolves hungry for blood, into a calm team of purposeful politicians, keeping watch over the government and ready to form an administration, if and when that time comes. They are a long way off that at the moment. We await the outcome of today’s elections.