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PNP hurt by JLP strapping

STRUGGLING to deal with a thrashing, the likes of which the People’s National Party (PNP) had not received since 1980, the majority of the party’s leaders were absent from their Old Hope Road headquarters last night as it was confirmed that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had decisively won a second term.

There was no public concession speech from the PNP President Dr Peter Phillips, although he called JLP Leader Andrew Holness to offer his congratulations as soon as the numbers showed defeat was inevitable.

Early yesterday, Phillips confirmed that he would resign if the PNP failed to win the election, as well as leave representational politics shortly after, and it was one of his possible successors, vice-president Phillip Paulwell, who faced the public last night.

A subdued Paulwell admitted that he was shocked by the result, and said, while he had not yet cried, the tears could come later.

“It is quite shocking and I haven’t come to terms as yet with all of the decisions, and yes, you are correct, it is a shocking defeat,” said Paulwell.

“But we have been here before. I recall in 1980, the very first time I voted in my life, we had a similar defeat (51-9) and in less than 10 years we were back in power,” added Paulwell, who served as the PNP’s co-campaign director with Peter Bunting. Bunting failed to hang on to his Manchester Central seat.

According to Paulwell, it was clear that the JLP has won the confidence of the Jamaican voters, and the PNP is prepared to work with the Government.

“It is obvious that the people believe that the Government has performed. The people believe that the Government is deserving of another term. The Jamaica Labour Party out-strategised us, and… I have to commend them for that,” said Paulwell.

He noted that after each election, win or lose, the PNP goes through a period of review, and said that process will begin as early as today when the party is expected to say something more concrete to the country.

But Paulwell rejected the early suggestion that the defeat was an indictment on Phillips, who has scored low in all public opinion polls in recent months.

“All of us will have to accept full responsibility. I, as campaign co-director, will have to take full responsibility for my role in this campaign. So we are not going to start by pointing fingers, by issuing blame. I think there is a lot for all of us to accept and to recognise that we have to come better,” declared Paulwell, as he also downplayed the suggestion that last year’s divisive leadership race in the PNP contributed to its poor showing.

“There were certain aspects of our conduct which people did not like, especially in the issue of unity, and we have to build back the trust. And I believe, in short order, especially in this critical period, we have to summon a united effort because that is what is required now to overcome this period,” said Paulwell.

The PNP vice-president added that his party wishes the Andrew Holness-led Administration well, and is prepared to embrace its good initiatives.

But Paulwell argued that there were some good initiatives in the PNP’s manifesto, such as the proposals for subsidies to some members of the public for water and electricity bills, and he is hoping that the Government will discuss and seriously consider them.

He is also urging the Holness Administration to enter a full discussion with the Opposition on the ongoing problem of crime, in order to arrive at a national consensus.

In the meantime, former PNP vice-president Angela Brown Burke, who survived the JLP tsunami to hang on to her St Andrew South Western seat, sought to console the handful of Comrades at the party’s headquarters last night, even as she admitted that is was a difficult day.

“I have to say, the results are surprising. Even if you entertained the possibility that we might not have won, I certainly did not anticipate this result,” Brown Burke told the Observer.

She said the PNP will have to do some analysis to ensure that it understands the message sent by the voters.

“One of it has to do with the organisation of the People’s National Party. We have been saying for some time that the organisation is not in the shape it should be. I think we have to look at who we are, how people see us, and what is the exact message that has been sent to us today,” added Brown Burke.