PNP VP race warms up

ALTHOUGH the election of officers of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) is a fraction over six months away — nine names have already been put forward to contest four available positions for vice president of the 80-year-old political party — Jamaica Observer sources have said.

The party’s Annual Conference — the highest decision-making body in its structure — will convene in September to fill the four slots now held by Dr Fenton Ferguson, one of the longest serving among them; Dr K Wykeham McNeill, Noel “Butch” Arscott, and Angela Brown Burke. They were victorious the last time that the party voted to decide the vice-presidents at the Annual Conference in September 2016. The losing candidate of the five who went to the party’s delegates with their aims and objectives was Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna.

Now, Hanna is numbered among the nine who have already signalled to their supporters that they want to first test the waters, and if it is possible, to serve the party in that capacity. Dr Ferguson, a six-term MP, confirmed that he would seek re-election, while Dr McNeill, Arscott and Brown Burke are all said to be anxious to serve again and will place themselves at the mercy of the delegates.

The other five candidates who have already indicated in one form or the other that they would want to contest the poll are MP and former science, technology, energy and mining minister Phillip Paulwell, who is also chairman of Region Three, which includes the Corporate Area; flamboyant Senator and former MP Damion Crawford, now in London on a speaking engagement; MP Denise Daley; and MP Mikael Phillips, son of party president Dr Peter Phillips. None has officially or publicly confirmed an interest.

There are rumblings and mutterings from near and far that President Phillips could also face a challenge from a prominent MP who has leadership aspirations, although no clear details had emerged by the time the Observer prepared for press.

But it is the duel between those vying to become Phillips’ deputies where the action will likely be.

Early suggestions are that of the four incumbent VPs, only Dr Ferguson seems to be a safe bet to continue in a role that he has played since the bitter feud in 2006 when he barely scraped through to claim one of the four positions. That was because two factions — one aligned to Phillips, and the other to then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller — fought out who should occupy the four chairs next to the president.

Phillips, who had finished runner-up to Simpson Miller in a four-way race for party president that also involved Dr Omar Davies and Dr E Karl Blythe, had all his loyalists, except Dr Ferguson, swept aside in the race. The others elected VPs at the time were Arscott, Brown Burke and Derrick Kellier, all supporters of Simpson Miller.

Some of the potential candidates who were contacted declined to comment on the likelihood of the challenge.

One even told the Observer that he had been asked by the party leader to refrain from commenting on the matter until after the by-election to be contested tomorrow in the St Andrew North Western seat, which involves first-time aspirants to the House of Representatives Keisha Hayle of the PNP and Dr Nigel Clarke of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party.

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